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



The General Act of the Berlin Conference, 1885


Part II : Chapters IV-VII (pp.530-544)



CHAPTER IV. - Act of Navigation for the Congo

Article 13. The navigation of the Congo, without excepting any branches or outlets, is, and shall remain, free for the merchant ships of all nations equally, whether carrying cargo or ballast, for the transport of goods or passengers. It shall be regulated by the provisions of this Act of Navigation, and by the rules to be made in pursuance thereof.
In the exercise of this navigation the subjects and flags of all nations shall in all respects be treated on a footing of perfect equality, not only for the direct navigation from the open sea to the inland ports of the Congo and vice versa, but also for the great and small coasting trade, and for boat traffic on the course of the river.
Consequently, on all the course and mouths of the Congo there will be no distinction made between the subjects of Riverain States and those of non-Riverain States, and no exclusive privilege of navigation will be conceded to companies, corporations, or private persons whatsoever.
These provisions are recognised by the Signatory Powers as becoming henceforth a part of international law.

Article 14. The navigation of the Congo shall not be subject to any restriction or obligation which is not expressedly stipulated by the present Act. It shall not be exposed to any landing dues, to any station or depot tax, or to any charge for breaking bulk, or for compulsory entry into port.
In all the extent of the Congo the ships and goods in process of transit on the river shall be submitted to no transit dues, whatever their starting-place or destination.
There shall be levied no maritime or river toll based on the mere fact of navigation, nor any tax on goods aboard of ships. There shall only be levied taxes or duties having the character of an equivalent for services rendered to navigation itself, to wit :
1. Harbour dues on certain local establishments, such as wharves, warehouses, etc., if actually used.
The tariff of such dues shall be framed according to the cost of constructing and maintaining the said establishments; and it will be applied without regard to whence vessels come or what they are loaded with.
2. Pilot dues for those stretches of the river where it may be necessary to establish properly qualified pilots.
The tariff of these dues shall be fixed and calculated in proportion to the service rendered.
3. Charges raised to cover technical and administrative expenses incurred in the general interest of navigation, including lighthouse, beacon, and buoy duties.
The last-mentioned dues shall be based on the tonnage of vessels as shown by the ship's papers, and in accordance with the rules adopted on the Lower Danube.
The tariffs by which the various dues and taxes enumerated in the three preceding paragraphs shall be levied shall not involve any differential treatment, and shall be officially published at each port.
The Powers reserve to themselves to consider, after the lapse of five years, whether it may be necessary to revise, by common accord, the above-mentioned tariffs.

Article 15. The affluents of the Congo shall in all respects be subject to the same rules as the river of which they are tributaries.
And the same rules apply to the streams and rivers as well as the lakes and canals in the territories defined in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 1.
At the same time the powers of the International Commission of the Congo will not extend to the said rivers, streams, lakes and canals unless with the assemnt of the States under whose sovereignty they are placed. It is well understood also, that with regard to the territories mentioned in paragraph 3 of Article 1, the consent of the Sovereign States owning these territories is reserved.

Article 16. The roads, railways, or lateral canals which may be constructed with the special object of obviating the innavigability or correcting the imperfection of the river route on certain sections of the course of the Congo, it's affluents, and other waterways placed under a silimar system, as laid down in Article 15, shall be considered, in their quality of means of communication, as dependencies of this river, and as equally open to the traffic of all nations.
And as on the river itself, so there shall be collected on these roads, railways, and canals only tolls calculated on the cost of construction, maintenance and management, and on the profits due to the promoters.
As regards the tariff of these tolls, strangers and the natives of the respective territories shall be treated on a footing of perfect equality.

Article 17. There is instituted an International Commission charged with the execution of the provisions of the present Act of Navigation.
The Signatory Powers of this Act, as well as those who may subsequently adhere to it, may always be represented on the said Commission, each by one Delegate. But no Delegate shall have more than one vote at his disposal, even in the case of his representing several Governments.
This Delegate will be directly paid by his Government. As for the various agents and employees of the International Commission, their remuneration shall be charged to the amount of the dues collected in conformity with paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 14.
The particulars of the said remuneration, as well as the number, grade, and powers of the agents and employees, shall be entered in the Returns to be sent yearly to the Governments represented on the International Commission.

Article 18. The members of the International Commission, as well as it's appointed agents, are invested with the privileges of inviolability in the exercise of their functions. The same shall apply to the offices and archives of the Commission.

Article 19. The International Commission for the Navigation of the Congo shall be constituted as soon as five of the Signatory Powers of the present General Act shall have appointed their Delegates. And pending the constitution of the Commission the nomination of these Delegates shall be notified to the Imperial Government of Germany, which will see to it that the necessary steps are taken to summon the meeting of the Commission.
The Commission will at once draw up Navigation, River Police, Pilot and Quarantine Rules.
These Rules, as well as the tariffs to be framed by the Commission, shall, before coming into force, be submitted for approval to the Powers represented on the Commission. The Powers interested will have to communicate their views with as little delay as possible.
Any infringements of these Rules will be checked by the agents of the International Commission wherever it exercises direct authority, and elsewhere by the Riverain Power.
In the case of an abuse of power, or an act of injustice, on the part of any agent or employee of the International Commission, the individual who considers himself to be aggrieved in his person or rights may apply to the Consular Agent of his country. The latter will examine his complaint, and if he finds it prima facie reasonable, he will then be entitled to bring it before the Commission. At his instance then, the Commission, represented by at least three of it's members, shall in conjunction with him inquire into conduct of it's agent or employee. Should the Consular Agent look upon the decision of the Commission as raising questions of law (objections de droit), he will report on the subject to his Government, which may then have recourse to the Powers represented on the Commission, and invite them to agree as to the instructions to be given to the Commission.

Article 20. The International Commission of the Congo, charged interms of Article 17 with the execution of the present Act of Navigation, shall in particular have power -
1. To decide what works are necessary to assure the navigability of the Congo in accordance with the needs of international trade.
On those sections of the river where no Powers exercise sovereign rights, the International Commission will itself take the necessary measures for assuring the navigability of the river.
On those sections of the river held by a Sovereign Power, the International Commission will concert it's action (s'entendra) with the riparian authorities.
2. To fix the pilot tariff and that of general navigation dues as provided for by paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 14.
The tariffs mentioned in the first paragraph of Article 14 shall be framed by the territorial authorities within the limits prescribed in the said Article.
The levying of the various dues shall be seen to by the international or territorial authorities on whose behalf they are established.
3. To administer the revenue from arising from the application of the preceding paragraph (2).
4. To superintend the quarantine establishment created in virtue of Article 24.
5. To appoint officials for the general service of navigation, and also it's own proper employees.
It will be for the territorial authorities to appoint Sub-Inspectors on sections of the river occupied by a Power, and for the International Commission to do so on the other sections.
The Riverain Power will notify to the International Commission the appointment of Sub-Inspectors, and this Power will undertake the payment of their salaries.
In the exercise of it's functions as above defined and limited, the International Commission will be independent of the territorial authorities.

Article 21. In the accomplishment of it's task the International Commission may, if need be, have recourse to the war-vessels of the Signatory Powers of this Act, and of those who may in future accede to it, under reserve, however, of the instructions which may be given to the Commanders of their vessels by their respective Governments.

Article 22. The war vessels of the Signatory Powers of this Act that may enter the Congo are exempt from payment of the navigation dues provided for in paragraph 3 of Article 14; but unless their intervention has been called for by the International Commission or it's agents, in terms of the preceding Article, they shall be liable to the payment of the pilot or harbour dues which may eventually be established.

Article 23. With the view of providing for the technical and administrative expenses which it may incur, the International Commission created by Article 17 may, in it's own name, negotiate loans to be exclusively guaranteed by the revenues raised by the said Commission.
The decisions of the Commission dealing with the conclusion of a loan must be come to by majority of two thirds. It is understood that the Governments represented on the Commission shall not in any case be held as assuming any guarantee or as contracting any engagement or joint liability (solidarite) with respect to the said loans, unless under special Conventions concluded by them to this effect.
The revenue yielded by the dues specified in paragraph 3 of Article 14 shall bear, as a first charge, the payment of the interest and sinking fund of the said loans, according to agreement with the lenders.

Article 24. At the mouth of the Congo there shall be founded, either on the initiative of the Riverain Powers, or by the intervention of the International Commission, a quarantine establishment for the control of vessels passing out as well as into the river.
Later on, the Powers will decide whether and on what conditions a sanitary control shall be exercised over vessels engaged in the navigation of the river itself.

Article 25. The provisions of the present Act of Navigation shall remain in force in time of war. Consequently all nations, whether neutral or belligerent, shall always be free, for the purpose of trade, to navigate the Congo, it's branches, affluents, and mouths, as well as the territorial waters fronting the embouchure of the river.
Traffic will similarily remain free, despite a state of war, on the roads, railways, lakes, and canals mentioned in Articles 15 and 16.
There will be no exception to this principle except in so far as concerns the transport of articles intended for a belligerent and, in virtue of the law of nations, regarded as contraband of war.
All the works and establishments created in pursuance of the present Act, especially the tax-collecting offices and their treasuries, as well as the permanent service staff of these establishments, shall enjoy the benefits of neutrality (places sous le regime de la neutralite), and shall therefore be respected and protected by belligerents.


CHAPTER V. - Act of Navigation for the Niger.

Article 26. The navigation of the Niger, without excepting any of it's branches and outlets, is and shall remain entirely free for the merchant ships of all nations equally, whether with cargo or ballast, for the transportation of goods and passengers. It shall be regulated by the provisions of this Act of Navigation, and by the rules to be made in the pursuance of this Act.
In the exercise of this navigation the subjects and flags of all nations shall be treated, in all circumstances, on a footing of perfect equality, not only for the direct navigation from the open sea to the inland ports of the Niger and vice versa, but for the great and small coasting trade, and for boat trade on the course of the river.
Consequently, on all the course and mouths of the Niger there will be no distinction made between the subjects of the Riverain States and those of the non-Riverain States; and no exclusive privilege of navigation will be conceded to companies, corporations, or private persons.
These provisions are recognized by the Signatory Powers as forming henceforth a part of international law.

Article 27. The navigation of the Niger shall not be subject to any restriction or obligation based merely on the fact of navigation.
It shall not be exposed to any obligation in regard to landing, station, or depot, or for breaking bulk, or for compulsory entry into a port.
In all the extent of the Niger the ships and goods in process of transit on the river shall be submitted to no transit dies, whatever their starting-place or destination.
No maritime or river toll shall be levied based on the sole fact of navigation, nor any tax on goods on board of ships. There shall only be collected taxes or duties which shall be an equivalent for services rendered to navigation itself. The tariff of these taxes shall not warrant any differential treatment.

Article 28. The affluents of the Niger shall be in all respects subject to the same rules as the river of which they are tributaries.

Article 29. The roads, railways, or lateral canals which may be constructed with the special object of obviating the innavigability or correcting the imperfections of the river route on certain sections of the course of the Niger, it's affluents, branches, and outlets, shall be considered, in their quality of means of communication, as dependencies of this river and as equally open to the traffic of all nations.
And as on the river itself, so there shall be collected on these roads, railways, and canals only tolls calculated on the cost of construction, maintenance, and management, and on the profits due to the promoters.
As regards the tariff of these tolls, strangers and the natives of the respective territories shall be treated on a footing of perfect equality.

Article 30. Great Britain undertakes to apply the principles of freedom of navigation enunciated in Articles 26, 27, 28 and 29, on so much of the waters of the Niger, it's affluents, branches and outlets, as are or may be under her sovereignty or protection.
The rules which she may establish for the safety and control of navigation shall be drawn up in a way to facilitate, as far as possible, the circulation of merchant ships.
It is understood that nothing in these obligations shall be interpreted as hindering Great Britain from making any rules of navigation whatever which shall not be contrary to the spirit of these engagements.
Great Britain undertakes to protect foreign merchants and all the trading nationalities on all those portions of the Niger which are or may be under her sovereignty or protection as if they were her own subjects, provided always that such merchants conform to the rules which are or shall be made in virtue of the foregoing.

Article 31. France accepts, under the same reservations, and in identical terms, the obligations undertaken in the preceding Articles in respect of so much of the waters of the Niger, it's affluents, branches, and outlets, as are or may be under her sovereignty or protection.

Article 32. Each of the other Signatory Powers binds itself in the same way, in case it should exercise in the future rights of sovereignty or protection over any portion of the waters of the Niger, it's affluents, branches or outlets.

Article 33. The arrangement of the present Act of Navigation will remain in force in time of war. Consequently, the navigation of all neutral or belligerent nations will be in all times free for the usage of commerce on the Niger, it's branches, affluents, it's mouths, and outlets, as well as on the territorial waters opposite the mouths and outlets of that river.
The traffic will remain equally free in spite of a state of war on the roads, railways, and canals mentioned in Article 29.
There will be an exception to this principle only in that which relates to the transport of articles destined for a belligerent and considered, in virtue of the law of nations, as articles of contraband of war.


CHAPTER VI. - Declaration relative to the essential Conditions to be observed in order that new Occupations on the Coasts of the African Continent may be held to be effective.

Article 34. Any Power which henceforth takes possession of a tract of land on the coasts of the African Continent outside of it's present possessions, or which, being hitherto without such possessions, shall acquire them, as well as the Power which assumes a protectorate there, shall accompany the respective act with a notification thereof, addressed to the other Signatory Powers of the present Act, in order to enable them, if need be, to make good any claims of their own.

Article 35. The Signatory Powers of the present Act recognise the bligation to ensure the establishment of authority in the regions occupied by them on the coasts of the African Continent sufficient to protect existing rights, and, as the case may be, freedom of trade and of transit under the conditions agreed upon.


CHAPTER VII. - General Dispositions.

Article 36. The Signatory Powers of the present General Act reserve to themselves to introduce into it subsequently, and by common accord, such modifications and improvements as experience may show to be expedient.

Article 37. The Powers who have not signed the present General Act shall be free to adhere to it's provisions by a separate instrument.
The adhesion of each Power shall be notified in diplomatic form to the Government of the German Empire, and by it in turn to all the other Signatory or adhering Powers.
Such adhesion shall carry with it full acceptance of all the obligations as well as admission to all the advantages stipulated by the present General Act.

Article 38. The present General Act shall be ratified with as little delay as possible, the same in no case to exceed a year.
It will come into force for each Power from the date of it's ratification by that Power.
Meanwhile, the Signatory Powers of the present General Act bind themselves not to take any steps contrary to it's provisions.
Each Power will address it's ratification to the Government of the German Empire, by which notice of the fact will be given to all the other Signatory Powers of the present Act.
The ratifications of all the Powers will be deposited in the archives of the Government of the German Empire. When all the ratifications shall have been sent in, there will be drawn up a Deposit Act, in the shape of a Protocol, to be signed by the Representatives of all the Powers which have taken part in the Conference of Berlin, and of which a certified copy will be sent to each of those Powers.
In testimony whereof the several Plenipotentiaries have signed the present General Act and have affixed thereto their seals.

Done at Berlin the 26th day of February 1885.
(here follow the signatures of the Plenipotentiaries in the order of their names in the preamble)








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