The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I – Volume 2 (Pt 18)

At the General Assembly of the League of Nations held in September 1937, a law that forbade granting recognition to the claims of an aggressor, who had occupied another country by means of force, was formulated after a fierce debate over the Ethiopian case.


League of Nations


It was evident that… Ethiopia was to be raised at the meeting of the League’s Council to be held on Genbot 1, 1930 [May 9, 1938]. By then We had been seriously ill, and We had not fully recuperated. Nevertheless We understood that the Ethiopian case might be debated and given a final decision by the full General Assembly and We went to Geneva… [in case] it came up at the Council.

Since the times were insecure, when we passed through France and while we stayed in Switzerland, the two governments accorded Us the utmost protection and care. Security agents joined hands and stood around Us like a fence so that nobody could come close to Us. When we [motored] on the streets of Geneva, motorcycle police rode on Our left and right to offer protection. In addition, other security vehicles tracked Us from front and rear.


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Her Majesty the Empress Menen had been in Jerusalem since last January [Tir 10]. By chance, on the same day We were passing through Paris en route to Geneva… she happened to be [there] on her way back to London from Jerusalem, and we spent two hours together at a train station there. We arrived in Geneva on Miazia 30 [May 8] at 9 o’clock in the evening, and next day Genbot 1 [May 9], at 10 o’clock in the morning, We appeared before the meeting of the Council of the League of Nations. Since Our health was in critical condition, during Our travel to Geneva and back to London, We remained under the care of a special physician who visited Us each morning and evening.


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The British Foreign Minster, Lord Halifax, after admitting the existence of resistance fighters in Ethiopia and expressing the British government’s commitment to hold inviolate the Charter of the League of Nations with regard to the Ethiopian affair, suggested that member governments make their decisions as they saw fit. Thereafter, since We were unable to address the council due to illness, Ato Lorenzo Taezaz read Our speech in Our behalf:


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Your Excellency Mr. President, the Ethiopian people, denied any kind of assistance, are marching the path of the cross alone. The victims are doomed to carry the brunt of the humiliation brought on them by the iniquities of the aggressor. To fulfill the wishes of the aggressor, all kinds of strategems have been designed so that Ethiopia’s expulsion from the League of Nations might appear consistent with the League’s procedures. For three years, the issue has remained before the world as if it were the paramount concern of all governments…. Can the rule of law overcome coercion or is force going to be allowed to subdue lawfulness? Ethiopia, victimized unjustifiably by an aggressor, had placed her confidence in the Charter… of the League…. She has not received the assistance which she deserves or which has been pledged to her. She has watched with grief while… agreements… crumbled one after the other. The small governments, recognizing their weakness, have abandoned Ethiopia in fear of the aggressor’s vengeance. They wailed in a voice of shock and defeat, saying, save yourself if you are able. In doing so… they vainly thought they would please the aggressor and free themselves from the obligations of the treaties concerning the maintenance of security of which they were signatories. As a result, they demolished the fundamental principles on which their very existence was based. They tore down the Charter of the League and the Treaty of Paris [Versailles, June 1919], the very agreements that ensured their independence and deterred aggression. After rendering the treaties… worthless, can they feel the responsibility of living up to their obligations?


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Acts of aggression have become rampant. They are multiplying and infecting many. Some governments are engaged in full-scale struggle. Many others feel the threat. Fear reigns in the world. Those who already have been prey and those who are being haunted by aggressors, tremble anticipating what is yet to come. They endeavor to maintain their lives by trying to placate the governments whom they consider as their potential assailants. The good work of the League of Nations is being destroyed. The weak nations present as an excuse their feebleness and their fear of being abandoned as Ethiopia was. As the lesser of two evils, they render submissions to the aggressor. May God have mercy on them.

To those governments who responsibly assisted Us since the day Our travail began, and reaffirmed their commitment to the preservation of the Charter of the League of Nations in strong and unrelenting terms, I extend my profound gratitude in the name of my people in appreciation of their unwavering friendship. The people of Ethiopia are deeply heartened by the actions of those great nations who publicly asserted their resolve to protect the Charter… to respect the treaties of the League, and to uphold the sanctity of the agreements that laid the foundation for good work in the world.


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The Ethiopian affair has come before the Council… as if it were the most important issue in the world. Yet, the discussion has been distorted by unsubstantiated hearsay in anticipation of how it would affect the situation within Ethiopia. The truth is, however, that it was presented to render credible the Rome agreement of April 16, 1938, in which the British Ambassador communicated the following to the Italian Minster of Foreign Affairs.

His Majesty’s Government would like to make it known to Your Excellency that, with regard to recognizing Italy’s claim over Ethiopia, it is the wish of the British government to obviate any predicament that might seem to jeopardize the sovereignty of member states. So it is the intention of [His Majesty’s Government] to scrutinize the views of the member states at the up coming meeting of the League of Nations Council.


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The action was taken to confirm the 5th, 6th and 7th addenda to the agreement reached between Britain and Italy on April 16, 1938. The 5th addendum dealt with Lake Tana. The 6th focussed on the military service of the people in Italian East Africa. According to the agreement and the addenda, the British government put itself under the legal obligation of recognizing Italy’s claim over Ethiopia. By the memorandum written on April 16, 1938 the British government made a doubly binding commitment to Italy. It undertook to speak persuasively in order to counter the adverse implications on the sovereignty of other member states, should they recognize Italy’s claims over Ethiopia.

As such, the League’s Council is being requested to rescind the resolution protecting sovereignty voted by the League’s General Assembly on March 11, 1932, and by the League’s council on July 4, 1932, and adopted by the General Assembly on July 4, 1936. The resolution reads as follows:

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The General Assembly announces that member states are prevented from involvement in any situation and entering into any agreement or treaty that does not comply with the League’s charter and/or the treaty of Paris.

Today, the fundamental principle of the Charter, as spelled out in article 10-that member states will defend and validate territorial integrity in the face of any aggression-is about to be dismantled.

[Voting to] refuse to recognize a territory acquired through aggression is not a step toward a war that may cost member countries huge casualties; rather it deters possible attack. Standing by article 10 remains, therefore, the least risky way of enforcing the Charter. Is steadfastness of principle so difficult, that governments prefer… reopening relations with Rome in violation of the principle that a territory acquired by force should not be recognized? Today, the mighty British government wants and is poised to propose the tragic termination of this fundamental principle.


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