Our journey to Geneva in quest of justice from the League of Nations
Before the Walwal attack, and even after it, We had not abandoned Our firm faith in the League of Nations. Some people who saw this tried to instill doubts into Our heart by arguing ‘if you had given up, earlier on, your faith in the League of Nations and had persisted preparing for war, all this calamity would not have come upon you; the faith which from now onwards you are reposing in the League of Nations will be in vain.’ But We were conscious that it was right to have a covenant honoured even between two individuals, let alone a covenant of 52 nations. So We did not change Our mind up to the last, other than adhering firmly to Our intention not to diminish Our faith in the League. That We had come here after leaving Our country was to explain, in person, Our tribulations to the League, in the firm conviction that the League would not fail to give Us a fair judgement.
When We were in London We learnt that the League had arranged a meeting for June 26th 1936 (= 19th Sane 1928) in order to discuss the dispute between Ethiopia and Italy as well as some other smaller matters; We consequently decided to go to Geneva. When there were only some eight days to go before the appointed day, some of Our friends came and said to Us: ‘It would be better if Your Majesty were not to go to Geneva; the reason being, if you yourself went and appeared before the Assembly and if, after your speech, you failed to secure justice, your grief would be the greater; hence it would be better if you sent envoys.’ Others again gave Us friendly advice to this effect: ‘At this time of your great troubles, unless you yourself appeared before the Assembly and explained in your own words any of the matters concerned, or if you merely sent envoys, the problem would not appear sufficiently grave to the Assembly; hence it would be better if you definitely attended.’
The reason why We had left Our country Ethiopia and come here had not been in order to send envoys but to explain in front of the League of Nations, Ourselves and in Our own words, the nature of the aggression committed against us. On 18th Sane (= 25th June), accompanied by H.H. Ras Kassa, Dejazmatch Nasibu, Blattengeta Heruy, Ato Walda Giyorgis Walda Yohannes, Ato Lorenso Ta’ezaz, and Ato Efrem Tawalda Madhen, We set out from London and went to Geneva by way of Paris, arriving there by train on the following morning. Subsequently, 23rd Sane 1928 (= 30th June 1936) was the day fixed for Us to speak Our mind before the representatives of fifty-two nations assembled there. When We went there on the appointed day and stood by the lectern, the Italians who had come there for news reporting started to whistle continuously with the intention of obstructing Our speech and rendering it inaudible. At this moment, the Rumanian delegate, M. Titulescu, remarked to the President of the Assembly, M. van Zeeland: ‘For the sake of justice, silence these beasts!’
The President of the Assembly, seeing the rude behaviour of the Italians in front of so many international representatives, ordered the guards to expel the Italians by force; they then seized them and ejected them.
After this We read Our speech in Amharic, and it was arranged that it should immediately be translated into French and English, so that the whole Assembly could understand it. The text was as follows:
Your Excellency, Mr. President,
Your Excellencies, Envoys of the Nations!
I should have liked to speak to you in French. But as it is in the Amharic language alone that I am able to speak my mind from my heart and with all the force of my spirit, I would beg the forgiveness of the General Assembly of the League of Nations for not speaking in French.
I, Haile Sellassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, am present here today to ask for the impartial justice due to my people and for the help which fifty-two nations had undertaken to extend to it when they affirmed, eight months ago, that a war of aggression, in violation of international law, was being waged against Ethiopia.
There is no man other than the Emperor to present the appeal of the Ethiopian people to these fifty-two nations.
Perhaps this is the first time that a king or president appears before this assembly and addresses it. But it is truly only today that violence of this kind is seen being committed against a people which is now falling victim to the aggressor.
Furthermore, there has not been seen a previous example of a government that has set out to extinguish methodically and by means of cruelty, the entire stock of another people, in transgression of a covenant which it has honourably and publicly entered into in form of a treaty concluded with the nations of the world, to wit that one government was not to deprive another of its country by means of war and that it was not to exterminate innocent human beings by powerful and toxic poison gas. The reason that I, as Emperor of Ethiopia, have come to Geneva after having fought myself as Commander-in-Chief of my army is to fulfil this highest duty of mine and to defend the Ethiopian people struggling to preserve its independence which has endured for many thousands of years. I pray to God that He may keep the nations of the world from the torment that has been inflicted upon my people and from the nauseating things of which these chiefs who have followed me here have been witnesses and which have, indeed, happened to themselves.
I shall explain in detail to the representatives of the nations assembled in Geneva, who are responsible for the lives of many millions of men, women, and children, about the mortal danger awaiting these creatures and the fate which has overwhelmed Ethiopia.
It is not only upon Ethiopian soldiers that the Italian Government has made war; above all, it has struck at peaceful people far removed from the battlefield by killing them with terror raids and exterminating them altogether.
At the beginning of the war, in 1928 (= 1935), Italian aeroplanes launched tear-gas bombs upon my armies. These bombs did not harm them very greatly, as the soldiers knew, when these bombs were being dropped, how to scatter until the wind had disposed of the gas.
After this, the Italian aeroplanes began to drop yperite gas. Casks containing yperite fell upon the Ethiopian army; but the harm which this yperite gas caused was not considerable. The reason for this was that there were only a few soldiers whom the yperite liquid affected, and when the casks fell upon the ground both the soldiers and the population realized that they contained poison.
When Ethiopian troops had encircled Maqalle, the Italian army Commander-in-Chief had good reason to feel anxiety about the possible dissolution of the Italian army and, therefore, directed the dropping of yperite in a different manner. It is now my duty to reveal this action to the world.
A mechanism spraying yperite liquid was installed in the aircraft, and it was arranged that a fine rain bringing death should descend over vast tracts of country. At one time, nine, fifteen, or eighteen Italian aeroplanes were going to and fro bringing down an unceasing rain of yperite. From the end of Ter 1928 (= late January 1936) onwards this death-dealing rain descended uninterruptedly upon our soldiers, upon women, children, cattle, streams, stagnant waters as well as pastures. The Italian army commander made the aeroplanes repeat this work of theirs, in order to extinguish completely all living creatures and to turn into poison the waters and the grazing grounds. He made this the principal means of warfare.
This work of cruelty, carried out with some finesse, annihilated people in places far removed from the battlefield and made their country into a desert. The plan was to spread terror and death over the greater part of Ethiopia.
This most deplorable scheme was eventually accomplished. Man and beast perished completely. The deadly downpour that descended from the aircraft made anyone who touched it fly with torment. Those who drank the water upon which this poisonous rain had settled or ate the food which the poison had touched died in dreadful agony. The people who died as a result of the Italian yperite must be reckoned in many thousands. It was to make known to the civilized world the torment inflicted upon the Ethiopian people that I decided to come to Geneva.
There is none better qualified than myself and these men who were in the war with me to provide the League of Nations with this indisputable testimony.
If Europe reckons this matter to be an accomplished fact, then it is proper to consider this fate which awaits it and which is bound to come upon it.
The appeal which my envoys presented to the League of Nations when this whole tribulation descended upon my army and my people has remained without obtaining any reply. My envoys have not been in this war and, as they themselves have not witnessed the afflictions suffered by Ethiopia, I have resolved to come myself to describe the criminal acts perpetrated against my people.
It is not necessary, is it, to remind the General Assembly of the League of Nations meeting here today of what has happened to Ethiopia over this period of time?
For the past twenty years, when working first as Crown Prince and Regent of the Ethiopian realm and later as Emperor and leader of my people, I have not ceased striving to obtain for my country the benefits of modern civilization and, in particular, to establish relations of good neighbourliness with adjacent governments. With Italy especially I concluded a treaty of friendship in 1920 (= 1928) which prohibited the resort to war under any circumstances whatsoever and which provided for any dispute arising between the two governments to be settled amicably and by arbitration, a procedure which the civilized nations of the world have made the basis for the peace of their peoples.
In the declaration which the Committee of thirteen governments presented on 25th Maskaram 1928 (= 6th October 1935) it told me expressly that it was aware of the efforts I had made. The text was as follows:
‘The nations had considered that, by her entry into the League and by affording her new confidence that her territorial integrity would not be impaired and her independence not be destroyed, Ethiopia would attain a higher level of civilization than she possessed now. In present-day Ethiopia there does not appear to be the lack of security and the condition of lawlessness that could still be seen in 1915 (= 1923). In fact, the country has become more united than before, and the authority of the central government is more respected than in the past.’
If the Italian Government had not created all sorts of troubles for me by pushing some men to raise up revolts in Ethiopia and by giving arms to the rebels, the work I have been doing for my people would have been even more beneficial and have shown better results.
The Rome Government-as indeed it has now openly admitted-has been preparing unceasingly plans to take Ethiopia by means of war. Thus all the treaties with me which it had signed were not sincere. The fact that it had signed this treaty of friendship in particular was intended to serve the purpose of concealing its real plans.
The Italian Government has confirmed its preparations, for the past fourteen years, to undertake what it has now obtained by force. Therefore, it is possible to say that it was doing things to undermine the confidence of the world when it aided and supported the admission of Ethiopia to the League of Nations in 1915 (= 1923), when it concluded the treaty of friendship in 1920 (= 1928), and when it signed the Treaty of Paris to outlaw war. The Ethiopian Government, however, believed to find in all these treaties, concluded with great solemnity, fresh confidence that it was possible to accomplish the work it had initiated with all its heart and strength to lead the country on a peaceful path towards civilization.
The Walwal conflict which occurred in Hedar 1927 (= December 1934) was felt by me like a sudden flash of lightning descended from the sky. But it was obvious that Italy wished this quarrel to take place. I did not delay informing the League of Nations of this incident. I requested, therefore, that the matter be looked at according to the text laid down in the 1920 (= 1928) treaty, on the basis of the League’s raison d’etre, in accord with the arbitration provisions, and all these various procedures.
But it was Ethiopia’s misfortune that it appeared absolutely essential to some governments to obtain Italy’s friendship by whatever means on the grounds of the situation in Europe. The price paid for the Italian Government’s coercive demands was to hand over Ethiopia’s independence. This secretly contrived agreement, rather than the obligations into which the nations of the world had entered under the League covenant, became an awful burden for all the affairs of Ethiopia that arose at that time. On these grounds Ethiopia and the whole world have experienced great difficulties over this calamity; and to this day these problems persist.
This setting aside of the covenant of the League, then occurring for the first time, has not remained a unique occasion. The Rome Government, feeling reinforced in the policy adopted against Ethiopia, initiated preparations for war, just in case the pressure that began to be exerted upon Ethiopia turned out to be insufficient to induce the Ethiopian people to accept Italian rule. Hence it was to Italy’s advantage to delay matters. Things were dragged out by many kinds of stratagems and in various ways, so that the arbitrators who had been chosen for conciliation were unable to start their task. All sorts of obstacles were devised to prevent the work of the arbitrators being completed. Some governments sought to prohibit the selection of arbitrators from among their nationals. Once the arbitration procedure had been set up, the arbitrators were subjected to pressure to bring in a verdict favourable to Italy. However, all this effort was in vain. The arbitrators, two of whom were Italians, issued a unanimous judgement to the effect that neither in the Walwal incident nor in any subsequent one was there anything to make Ethiopia responsible before the comity of nations.
After this verdict had been given, the Ethiopian Government was truly confident in supposing that this would usher in a new era of friendship with Italy. I stretched out my hand to the Rome Government in all sincerity.
The Committee of thirteen nations informed the General Assembly, in the report rendered at its meeting on 25th Maskaram 1928 (= 6th October 1935), of the details of the entire story in its various stages, beginning with Hedar 1927 (= December 1934) until 23rd Maskaram 1928 (= 4th October 1935).
From the conclusions reached in this report I would now only remind you of the text in paragraphs 24, 25, and 26:
It was on 29th Nahase 1927 (= 4th September 1935) that the Italian memorandum was handed to the Council. But the Ethiopian memorandum, its first appeal, is dated 5th Tahsas 1927 (= 14th December 1934). Between these two dates the Italian Government insisted that the matter should only be determined according to the wording laid down in the 1920 (= 1928) treaty between Ethiopia and Italy, meaning to prevent the problem coming before the Council. Throughout this time Italian soldiers were continually being despatched in the direction of East Africa. The Italian Government, concealing its secret intentions, informed the Council that the reason for the despatch of troops was that they were needed for defence, as the Ethiopian Government, by its military preparations, was causing anxiety to the Italian colonies in that area. The Ethiopian Government repeatedly drew attention to the fact that, quite to the contrary, the Italian Government left no doubt as to their hostile intentions-as can indeed be seen from the official speeches delivered in Italy.
From the beginning of the dispute the Ethiopian Government has sought to settle the matter by peaceful means. It has requested that the problem be looked into under the provisions of the League’s covenant. As, however, the Italian Government desired that the matter be looked at only under the procedures laid down in the Italo-Ethiopian treaty of 1920 (= 1928), the Ethiopian Government accepted this. The latter also declared that, even if the arbitrators failed to find in its favour, it would carry out the conditions of the verdict with goodwill. When Italy remained adamant that she would not allow the arbitrators to look into the question of the ownership of Walwal, Ethiopia accepted this as well. The Ethiopian Government requested the Council to send to the country neutrals who should investigate this matter; and it also declared its preparedness to accept any inquiry upon which the Council may wish to decide. The Italian Government, on its part, presented to the Council, once the Walwal problem had been settled by arbitration, a detailed memorandum to request the freedom to be able to do what it pleased. It asserted that there was nothing appropriate laid down in the League’s covenant to settle the whole problem concerning Ethiopia. It further announced that, since this matter was of vital interest to Italy and was a primary requirement for its own security, Italy would be neglecting its most elementary duty, unless it entirely removed its confidence from Ethiopia and obtained full freedom to carry out what was necessary to safeguard its own interests and to protect its colonies.
These then are the terms of the report which the committee of thirteen nations presented. The Council and the General Assembly announced unitedly and openly that ‘the Italian Government was the aggressor and was in breach of the League’s covenant’.
I have unceasingly made it known, time and time again, that I was not seeking to wage the war that was being imposed upon me. That I was fighting was solely to prevent my people’s liberty and Ethiopia’s territorial integrity being affected; I was additionally defending in this war the cause of all small nations who are neighbours of powerful states, lest such a neighbour should be able to take their country by force.
In the month of Teqemt 1928 (= October 1935) the fifty-two nations who are listening to me today gave me the following promise: ‘The aggressor will not prevail; we shall see that the provisions of the covenant are implemented, so that a lawful government shall be firmly supported and that the perpetrator of force, transgressing the law, shall be destroyed.’
I would remind the nations not to forget this their policy, for it is I who have followed the policy which the fifty-two nations have pursued these last eight months, in which I manifested my faith and upon which I directed my people to defend themselves against a government that had been condemned of aggression by the whole world.
Although my war equipment was so much less than the aggressor’s and although I possessed no aeroplanes, artillery, other weapons whatsoever or indeed hospital services for the wounded, my hope rested upon the covenant of the League. I thought it impossible that fifty-two nations, among whom were some of the mightiest in the world, could be defeated by one sole aggressor government. Reposing my trust in the efficacy of treaties-exactly as happened to some small nations in Europe-I had made no preparations for war. When the danger became more pressing and the responsibility towards my people irked my conscience, I tried to obtain arms throughout 1928 (= October 1935-May 1936). Many governments prohibited the export of arms intending to prevent me from obtaining any. The Italian Government, however, was able to transport through the Suez Canal weapons, munitions, and troops, uninterruptedly and without anyone stopping them. On Maskaram 23rd (= 4th October) the Italian army invaded my country, and only a few hours after that did I issue a proclamation of mobilization. In the desire to live by maintaining peace, I directed my troops to fall back some 30 kilometres from the frontiers, in order not to provoke a conflict by whatever pretext-exactly as an important nation had done when war was about to break out at the time of the Great War. After that, war continued with great violence, exactly as I have explained to the Council.
In this struggle of unequal rivalry between a government which had at its disposal a people of 42 million inhabitants, which was able to obtain all the necessary weapons and resources, and which possessed all the technical knowledge to make arms of various kinds to extinguish human life and, on the other hand, a small people of 12 million inhabitants which lived by trusting only impartial justice and the covenant of the League of Nations and which possessed neither arms nor money-in this unequal war you yourselves can well assess that there has not been any real help for the Ethiopian Government, even after the Rome Government had been condemned of having violated the League’s covenant and after the nations had declared that they would resist the aggressor’s triumph.
Is it that every single government in the League has considered the war of aggression exactly as if it had been waged against itself as an individual member, as the signature which it appended to article 17 of the League’s covenant required it to do?
I had placed all my hopes in the dutiful fulfilment of these obligations. My hopes had obtained support from the declarations made in the League that the aggressor would not gain a reward and that force would be defeated by the law.
In the month of Tahsas 1928 (= December 1935) the Council made it clearly known that it shared the view of many hundreds of million people in the whole world who opposed the plan which had been presented for the partition of Ethiopia. It has been said many times: ‘this conflict which has arisen is not only the conflict of Ethiopia and Italy but it is the conflict of the Italian Government and the League of Nations.’
This is why I myself, and my people, replied that I would not accept all the proposals which (the Italians) had submitted to me which were for my own benefit but which would undermine the covenant of the League of Nations. That I had adopted the position of resistance was additionally also for the cause of the small nations exposed to aggression. And where have all the promises of support that were given to me got to?
Ever since Tahsas 1928 (= December 1935) I had noted with much distress that three governments were regarding as entirely valueless the obligations under which they had entered into the League covenant. The relationship which they had with Italy made them unwilling to accept anything to stop the work of aggression which Italy had undertaken.
Moreover, it was the position of some governments that made me very dejected. These governments, while unceasingly declaring the faith which they reposed in the League of Nations, were equally unceasingly striving to prevent the law of the League being carried out. Some governments, when some sound proposal was tabled that would at once arrest the work of the aggressor, were causing delay with many pretexts, so that the matters should not come up for discussion-let alone be carried out. The secret agreements made in the month of Ter 1927 (= early January 1935), were they intended to presage this work of obstruction?
The Ethiopian Government did not expect other governments, whose direct interests were not involved, to shed their soldiers’ blood for the defense of the League’s covenant. What the warriors of Ethiopia did expect was merely the means they required for their defense. I had therefore asked many times to obtain the funds necessary for the purchase of arms. I was denied this assistance. What then is the explanation of the wording of article 16 in the League’s covenant or, indeed, of the solemn promises made that the nations would stand together and, by mutual assistance, prevent the extinction of security?
Many difficulties have been brought up to prevent the transport of arms intended for Ethiopia by the Jibuti-Addis Ababa railway and, equally, to stop the entry by that route of equipment, at the required time, that would be of service to the Ethiopian Government. Yet, for the present this is the principal route of transportation of supplies and arms for the Italian army which has entered Ethiopia illicitly. Even the rules of neutrality should prohibit the loading of equipment of this kind to reach the Italian forces at the places where they are at present. This being so, under the wording of article 16 of the covenant of the League of Nations it is improper for the neutrality clauses to be waived in this case, for all governments who are League-members have to suspend their neutrality if one government attacks another, as it is incumbent upon them to offer help, not to the aggressor but to the victim of the attack. In this manner, has the covenant been observed in the past? And is it possible to say that it is being respected today?
Now, latterly, some great nations who have considerable influence in the League have announced in their parliaments that, since the Italian aggressor had managed to seize part of the Ethiopian territory, there was no need now to continue the preventive measures in the financial sphere that had been set up against Italy.
This is the position in which the General Assembly of the League finds itself today as it meets to examine, at the request of the Argentine Government, the situation brought about by the Italian aggressor.
The issue which is today before the League of Nations General Assembly is not merely to settle what Italy has done by way of aggression. I would assert that it is something that touches upon all governments of the world. This is a problem of the duty of governments to assist each other to establish world security (what is called collective security); it is a question of the very life of the League of Nations; of the trust which the nations of the world can properly repose in treaties they have concluded; of the value attached to promises which the small nations have received as regards the inviolability of their territorial integrity and independence, so that these values be respected and properly esteemed; it is to assess whether the principle of the equality of nations is to be confirmed or whether the small states will have to accept subjection to the powerful ones. In brief, it is not only Ethiopia that is at stake but the decent way of life of the peoples of the world who have been thus affected and wronged. The signatures appended to a treaty, is it that they attain their value only in so far as they are of use to the signatories in the pursuit of their personal, direct, and immediate interests?
Subtle comparisons cannot change the main problem or lead the discussion in another direction. It is with sincerity of heart that I submit these reflections to the General Assembly of the League.
Apart from the Kingdom of God, there is no human government that possesses greater merit than any other. But on this earth, when a powerful government sets out in the belief that it is right to exterminate another nation against which no offence has been proved, then the hour has come for the injured party to bring the wrongs it has suffered before the League of Nations. God and history will observe as witnesses the judgement you will give.
At a time when my people is close to extinction, when the help of the League may yet be able to save it from that fate, it is proper that I should be permitted to speak the truth, without holding back anything, without reticence, and without prevarication.
I hear it being asserted that the sanctions, which have hitherto been applied and which have remained inadequate, have not produced the expected result. It was well known that sanctions which were intentionally devised to be insufficient and which were also improperly applied could not at any time and in any circumstances stop the aggressor. This has caused our failure to stop the aggressor, but it is not right to say that it was impossible. Ethiopia had previously asked to be given financial aid. She is asking for it now. Was this a matter incapable of implementation?
Yet the League of Nations had given financial assistance-and even in peace-time-to other governments who now refuse to apply sanctions against the aggressor. Despite the fact that the Italian Government had employed cruel means of warfare and had many times and repeatedly transgressed all international laws, I note with a very sad heart that a plan is now being devised to lift sanctions. Is this intended action not tantamount to abandoning Ethiopia and to saying ‘let the aggressor government do to her what it pleases’? Does not this initiative, coming as it does just before I appear before the League’s General Assembly with this great effort in the defence of my people, cut off one of Ethiopia’s last chances of obtaining help and guarantees from the governments who are members of the League? Is it an objective of this kind which the League and its members may confidently expect from the support of the great powers who possess the means to be leaders of the League’s actions?
If by the acts of aggression carried out by Italy things have come to such a pass, will the governments who are members of the League have to subordinate their own wishes to the precedent of brute force?
Proposals are assuredly to come before the General Assembly of the League with a view to improving the League covenant and rendering more effective the guarantees of mutual aid. But is it really necessary to change the covenant? Unless those who have signed the covenant have the will to observe its provisions in full, what guarantees are there that the covenant, even if changed, will be safeguarded? It is the determination of the nations of the world that is defective and not the covenant of the League.
In the name of the Ethiopian people which is a member of the League of Nations, I request the Assembly that everything necessary be carried out to have the covenant respected.
I now renew once more the protest which I have previously submitted on the grounds of the transgression of treaties to the detriment of the Ethiopian people and on account of the violence perpetrated against it. I declare before the world that the Emperor of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Government, and the people will not accept anything done to them by force. I further declare that they will do every thing in their power to see international order triumph, to have the League covenant respected, and to have the authority and the territory which is theirs restored to them.
I ask the fifty-two nations who have given a promise to the Ethiopian people that they would come to their aid at the time of the aggression against them, in order to prevent the aggressor from defeating them-I ask these fifty-two nations for their support by upholding their promise. What are you willing to do for Ethiopia?
You, Great Powers, who have promised to give guarantees of collective security, lest small nations be extinguished and the fate which has overtaken Ethiopia should befall them as well, have you considered what kind of assistance to provide, so that Ethiopia’s liberty shall not be destroyed and her territorial integrity respected?
You representatives of the world assembled here! I have come to you to Geneva to carry out the saddest duty that has befallen an Emperor. What answer am I to take back to my people?
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