Henry Wellington Wack
The Story of the Congo Free State
New York & London : Putnam 1905



The General Act of the Berlin Conference, 1885


Part I : Chapters I-III (pp.530-544)



PREAMBLE : - In the name of Almighty God. - His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia; His Majesty the Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia etc., and Apostolic King of Hungary; His Majesty the King of the Belgians; His Majesty the King of Denmark; His Majesty the King of Spain; the President of the United States of America; the President of the French Republic; Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India; His Majesty the King of Italy; His Majesty the King of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxembourg etc.; His Majesty the King of Portugal and the Algarves etc.; His Majesty the Emperor of All the Russias; His Majesty the King of Sweden and Norway etc.; and His Majesty the Emperor of the Ottomans,
Wishing in a spirit of good and mutual accord, to regulate the conditions most favourable to the development of trade and civilisation in certain regions of Africa, and to assure to all nations the advantages of free navigation on the two chief rivers of Africa flowing into the Atlantic Ocean; being desirous, on the other hand, to obviate the misunderstandings and disputes which might in future arise from new acts of occupation (prises de possession) on the coast of Africa; and concerned, at the same time, as to the means of furthering the moral and material well-being of the native populations: Having resolved, on the invitation addressed to them by the Imperial Government of Germany, in agreement with the Government of the French Republic, to meet for those purposes in Conference at Berlin, and have appointed as their Plenipotentiaries to wit :

His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia, Otho, Prince von Bismarck, his President of the Prussian Council of Ministers, Chancellor of the Empire; Paul, Count von Hatzfeldt, his Minister of State and Secretary for Foreign Affairs; Auguste Busch, his Acting Privy Councillor of Legation and Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; and Henri von Kusserow, Privy Councillor of Legation in the Department for Foreign Affairs ;
His Majesty the Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia, etc., and Apostolic King of Hungary, Emeric, Count Szechenyi de Sarvari Felsoe-Videk, Chamberlain and Acting Privy Councillor, his Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia ;
His Majesty the King of the Belgians, Gabriel Auguste Count van der Straten Ponthoz, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia; and Auguste, Baron Lambermont, Minister of State, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary ;
His Majesty the King of Denmark, Emile de Vind, Chamberlain, his Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia ;
His Majesty the King of Spain, Don Francisco Merry y Colom, Count Benomar, his Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia ;
The President of the United States of America, John A. Kasson, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia; and Henry S. Sanford, ex-Minister;
The President of the French Republic, Alphonse, Baron de Courcel, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia ;
Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, Sir Edward Baldwin Malet, her Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia ;
His Majesty the King of Italy, Edward, Count de Launay, his Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia ;
His Majesty the King of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Frederic Philippe, Jonkheer van der Hoeven, his Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia ;
His Majesty the King of Portugal and the Algarves, etc., Da Serra Gomes, Marquis de Penafiel, Peer of the Realm, his Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia; and Antoine de Serpa Pimentel, Councillor of State and Peer of the Realm;
His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, Pierre, Count Kapnist, Privy Councillor, his Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the King of the Netherlands;
His Majesty the King of Sweden and Norway, etc., Gillis, Baron Bildt, Lieutenant-General, his Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia ;
His Majesty the Emperor of the Ottomans, Mehemed Said Pasha, Vezir and High Dignitary, his Envoy Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary at the Court of His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia ;

Who, being provided with full powers, which have been found in good and due form, have successively discussed and adopted :
1.) A Declaration relative to freedom of trade in the basin of the Congo, it's embouchures and circumjacent regions, with other provisions connected therewith.
2.) A Declaration relative to the Slave Trade, and the operations by sea or land which furnish slaves to that trade.
3.) A Declaration relative to the neutrality of the territories comprised in the Conventional Basin of the Congo.
4.) An Act of Navigation for the Congo, which, while having regard to local circumstances, extends to this river, it's affluents, and the waters in it's system (eaux qui leur sont assimilees), the general principles enunciated in Articles CVIII. and CXVI. of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna, and intended to regulate, as between the Signatory Powers of that Act, the free navigation of the waterways separating or traversing several States - these said principles having since then been applied by agreement to certain rivers of Europe and America, but especially to the Danube, with the modifications stipulated by the Treaties of Paris (1856), of Berlin (1878), and of London (of 1871 and 1883).
5.) An Act of Navigation for the Niger, which, while likewise having regard to local circumstances, extends to this river and it's affluents the same principles as set forth in Articles CVIII. and CXVI. of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna.
6.) A Declaration introducing into international relations certain uniform rules with reference to future occupations on the coasts of the African Continent.
And deeming it expedient that all these several documents should be combined into one single instrument, they (the Signatory Powers) have collected them into one General Act, composed of the following Articles :


CHAPTER I. Declaration relative to Freedom of Trade in the Basin of the Congo, it's Mouths, and circumjacent Regions, with other Provisions connected therewith.

Article 1. The trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom - 1. In all regions forming the basin of the Congo and it's outlets. This basin is bounded by the watersheds (or mountain ridges) of the adjacent basins, namely, in particular, those of the Niara, the Ogowe, the Schari, and the Nile on the north; by the eastern watershed line of the affluents of Lake Tanganyika, on the east; and by the watersheds of the basins of the Zambesi and the Loge, on the south. It therefore comprises all the regions watered by the Congo and it's affluents, including Tanganyika, with it's eastern tributaries.
2. In the maritime zone extending along the Atlantic Ocean from the parallel situated in 2 degrees 30 minutes of south latitude to the mouth of the Loge.
The northern boundary will follow the parallel situated in 2 degrees 30 minutes from the coast to the point where it meets the geographical basin of the Congo, avoiding the basin of the Ogowe, to which the provisions of the present Act do not apply.
The southern boundary will follow the course of the Loge to it's source, and thence pass eastwards till it joins the geographical basin of the Congo.
3. In the zone stretching eastwards from the Congo Basin, as above defined, to the Indian Ocean from the 5th degree of north latitude to the mouth of the Zambesi in the south, from which point the line of demarcation will ascend the Zambezi to five miles above it's confluence with the Shire, and then follow the watershed between the affluents of Lake Nyassa and those of the Zambesi, till at last it reaches the watershed between the waters of the Zambesi and the Congo.
It is expressly recognised that in extending the principle of free trade to the eastern zone the Conference Powers only undertake engagements for themselves, and that in the territories belonging to an independent Sovereign State this principle shall only be applicable in so far as it is approved by such State. But the Powers agree to use their good offices with the Governments established on the African shore of the Indian Ocean for the purpose of obtaining such approval, and in any case of securing the most favourable conditions to the transit (traffic) of all nations.

Article 2. All flags, without distinction of nationality, shall have free access to the whole of the coast-line of the territories above enumerated, to the rivers there running into the sea, to all the waters of the Congo and it's affluents, including the lakes, and to all the ports situate on the banks of these waters, as well as to all canals which may in future be constructed with intent to unite the watercourses or lakes within the entire area of the territories described in Article 1. Those trading under such flags may engage in all sorts of transport, and carry on the coasting trade by sea and river, as well as boat traffic, on the same footing as if they were subjects.

Article 3. Wares, of whatever origin, imported into those regions, under whatsoever flag, by sea or river, or overland, shall be subject to no other taxes than such as may be levied as fair compensation for expenditure in the interest of trade, and which for this reason must be equally borne by the subjects themselves and by foreigners of all nationalities. All differential dues on vessels, as well as on merchandise, are forbidden.

Article 4. Merchandise imported into those regions shall remain free from import and transit dues.
The Powers reserve to themselves to determine after the lapse of twenty years whether this freedom of import shall be retained or not.

Article 5. No Power which exercises or shall exercise sovereign rights in the above-mentioned regions shall be allowed to grant a monopoly or favour of any kind in matters of trade.
Foreigners, without distinction, shall enjoy protection of their persons and property, as well as the right of acquiring and transferring movable and immovable possessions; and national rights and treatment in the exercise of their professions.

Article 6. Provisions relative to the Protection of the Natives, of Missionaries and Travellers, as well as to Religious Liberty. - All the Powers exercising sovereign rights or influence in the aforesaid territories bind themselves to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being, and to help in suppressing slavery, and especially the Slave Trade. They shall, without distinction of creed or nation, protect and favour all religions, scientific or charitable institutions, and undertakings created and organised for the above ends, or with aim at instructing the natives and bringing home to them the blessings of civilisation.
Christian missionaries, scientists and explorers, with their followers, property, and collections, shall likewise be the objects of especial protection.
Freedom of conscience and religious toleration are expressedly guaranteed to the natives, no less than to subjects and to foreigners. The free and public exercise of all forms of Divine worship, and the right to build edifices for religious purposes, and to organise religious missions belonging to all creeds, shall not be limited or fettered in any way whatsoever.

Article 7. Postal Regime. - The Convention of the Universal Postal Union, as revised at Paris the 1st June, 1878, shall be applied to the Conventional Basin of the Congo.
The Powers who therein do or shall exercise rights of sovereignty or protectorate engage, as soon as circumstances permit them, to take the measures necessary for the carrying out of the preceding provision.

Article 8. Right of Surveillance vested in the International Navigation Commission of the Congo. - In all parts of the territory had in view by the present Declaration, where no power shall exercise rights of sovereignty or protectorate, the International Navigation Commission of the Congo, instituted in virtue of Article 17, shall be charged with supervising the application of the principles proclaimed and perpetuated (consacres) by this Declaration.
In all cases of difference arising relative to the application of the principles established by the present Declaration, the Governments concerned may agree to appeal to the good offices of the International Commission, by submitting to it an examination of the facts which shall have occasioned these differences.


CHAPTER II. - Declaration relative to the Slave Trade.

Article 9. Seeing that trading in slaves is forbidden in conformity with the principles of international law as recognized by the Signatory Powers, and seeing also that the operations which by sea or land furnish slaves to trade ought likewise to be regarded as forbidden, the Powers which do or shall exercise sovereign rights or influence in the territories forming the Conventional Basin of the Congo declare that these territories may not serve as a market or means of transit for the trade in slaves, of whatever race they may be. Each of the Powers binds itself to employ all the means at it's disposal for putting an end to this trade and for punishing those who engage in it.


CHAPTER III. - Declaration relative to the Neutrality of the Territories comprised in the Conventional Basin of the Congo.

Article 10. In order to give a new guarantee of security to trade and industry, and to encourage, by the maintenance of peace, the development of civilisation mentioned in Article 1, and placed under the free trade system, the High Signatory Parties to the present Act, and those who shall herafter adopt it, bind themselves to respect the neutrality of the territories, or portions of territories, belonging to the said countrie, comprising therein the territorial waters, so long as the Powers which exercise or shall exercise the rights of sovereignty or protectorate over those territories, using their option of proclaiming themselves neutral, shall fulfil the duties which neutrality requires.

Article 11. In case of a Power exercising rights of sovereignty or protectorate in the countries mentioned in Article 1, and placed under the free trade system, shall be involved in a war, then the High Signatory Parties to the present Act, and those who thereafter adopt it, bind themselves to lend their good offices in order that the territories belonging to this Power and comprised in the Conventional free trade zone shall, by the common consent of this Power and of the other belligerent or belligerents, be placed during the war under the rule of neutrality, and considered as belonging to a non-belligerent State, the belligerents thenceforth abstaining from extending hostilities to the territories thus neutralised, and from using them as a base for warlike operations.

Article 12. In case a serious disagreement originating on the subject of, or in the limits of, the territories mentioned in Article 1 and placed under the free trade system, shall arise between any Signatory Powers of the present Act, or the Powers which may become parties to it, these Powers bind themselves, before appealing to arms, to have recourse to the mediation of one or more of the friendly Powers.
In a similar case the same Powers reserve to themselves the option of having recourse to arbitration.








This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 14th 2002

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics