|At The League of Nations in 1938|
|….. Being responsible for ensuring respect for the principles of international justice, is the League of
Nations about to end its own existence by tearing up, with its own hands, the Covenant which
constitutes its sole reason for existence? The magnificent edifice that has just been reared for the
triumph of peace through law, is thus henceforth to become an altar of the cult of force, a market place
in which the independence of peoples becomes the subject of trafficking, a tomb in which international
morality is to be buried …..
|The Ethiopian people, to whom all assistance was refused, are climbing alone their path to calvary.
No humiliation has been spared to the victim of aggression. All the resources of procedure have
been tried with a view to excluding Ethiopia from the League of Nations, as the aggressor demands.
Thus, for three years there has been before the world and before the League the problem of
international order: Will law win the game as against force, or force as against law?
Ethiopia, the victim of an inexcusable aggression, has placed her confidence in the signature of the
State Members of the League, although the support that was due to her was given only in a very
incomplete measure. Since 1935 Ethiopia has with pain noted successive abandonments of
signatures that had been appended to the Covenant.
Many powers threatened with aggression and feeling their weakness have abandoned Ethiopia.
They have uttered the cry of panic and rout. Everyone for himself! In the vain hope of currying
favour with the aggressor, they have regarded themselves as freed from the undertakings they had
assumed for general security. Thus they have themselves overthrown all the principles on which
their very existence rests. They have torn up the treaties which ensured their own independence –
the treaties of non-aggression, the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Pact of Paris. By what
right will they themselves be able to invoke these undertakings if they regard as scraps of paper
treaties they have signed?
Aggressions have taken place in increasing number. The contagion has been propagated. Certain
States are now engaged in full struggle, others are threatened. Fear reigns over the world. The
present or forthcoming victims tremble for the future, and they think they may improve their
situation by flattering those whose aggression they dread. International morality has disappeared.
The excuse of these weak people is their very weakness, the certainty that they would be
abandoned as Ethiopia has been, and between two evils they have chosen the one which the fear of
the aggressor leads them to consider the lesser. May God forgive them!
To those States which since the beginning of Our trials have continued to give us their moral
support and have unfailingly asserted their unshakable devotion to the provisions of the Covenant,
I would, on behalf of My people, voice an expression of Our profound gratitude for their faithful
It is disappointing to the Ethiopian people to observe the attitude of the most powerful States in
the world – States that have always proclaimed their devotion to the Covenant, asserting their
respect for the undertakings embodied in international treaties, and recalling the sanctity of
international contracts as the basis of international morality.
At the request of the most powerful States in the world, the Ethiopian question has been placed on
the agenda of the present session of the Council. It has been set out in very indefinite terms: “The
consequences arising out of the existing situation in Ethiopia.” What is proposed, indeed, is really
to ensure the execution of a Note attached to the agreement concluded at Rome on April 16th,
1938, in which the British Ambassador states to the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs as follows:
“I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that H.M. Government, being desirous of removing
any obstacle which may at the present time be considered as preventing the freedom of the States
Members in respect of the recognition of the Italian Sovereignty in Ethiopia, intends at the
forthcoming meeting of the Council of the League of Nations to take steps with a view to clarifying
the situation of States Members in this respect.”
This Note is supplementary to the Protocol of April 16, 1938, constituting the Anglo-Italian Treaty,
and to annexes 5, 6 and 7 of the said Protocol. Annex 5 contains a statement relating to Lake Tana.
Annex 6 contains a statement relating to the military obligations of natives of Italian East Africa.
Annex 7 contains a statement relating to the free exercises of religion and the treatment of British
religious organizations in Italian East Africa. By this convention and by these annexes the British
Government, so far as it is concerned has, subject to certain conditions, assumed towards Italy an
undertaking to recognize the Italian Government as de jure sovereign of the State of Ethiopia.
By the Note of April 16, 1938, the British Government entered into a second and supplementary
undertaking towards the Italian Government, and did so unconditionally. It undertook to use all its
influence with States Members of the League of Nations in order to remove those obstacles which
may at the present time be regarded as hampering the liberty of States Members in proceeding to
the recognition of Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia.
|The Council is asked to destroy the protective role laid down by the Assembly of the League of
Nations on March 11, 1932, and confirmed by the Assembly on July 4, 1936 as follows:
“The Assembly of the League of Nations declares that the Members of the League are bound not to
recognize any situation, any treaty, any agreement that may have been brought about by means
contrary to the Covenant of the League or to the Pact of Paris.”
That is how it is proposed to treat the principles of international law and Article 10 of the Covenant
by which Members undertake to respect and maintain as against all external aggression the
territorial integrity and political independence of each Member.
Nevertheless, non-recognition of a conquest by aggression is the onerous obligation in observing
Article 10, since it involves merely a passive attitude. It does not call upon States Members to make
any national sacrifice, nor does it lead them to incur any risk of war or reprisals. Has this passive
attitude become today too heavy a burden for those Governments which, in order to take up once
more with Rome what they call normal diplomatic relations, have thought it necessary to proclaim
in one form or another, and always in a way that gives little satisfaction, their fidelity to the
principle of the non-recognition of annexation of territory obtained by force?
Today it is the brutal abandonment of this principle which is contemplated, and which even seems
to be called for by the powerful British Empire.
I greatly regret that I find myself here opposed to a Government towards which I have the most
sincere feelings of admiration and of profound gratitude. It is that Government which, in my
distress, granted me its generous hospitality. I am forgetful of nothing of what I owe to Great
I also turn towards the French Government, whose powerful support I received fifteen years ago at
the time of the admission of my country to the League of Nations. France has, at all times, been the
disinterested adviser both of my predecessors and myself, the adviser whose advice was always
listened to. How can I forget all that the past holds of friendship and loyal support?
But I, the sovereign of Ethiopia, have a more imperative duty than any other, and it is the duty to
defend my oppressed people, which more than fifty nations of the world proclaimed less than three
years ago, to be the victim of an odious aggression. Very respectfully but very firmly, I would ask
the British Government itself – and everybody recognizes the loyalty, generosity and humanity of
that Government – to examine again its proposal regarding the situation of the Ethiopian people.
The interpretation of Article 10 must surely be the interpretation that has been given time after
time by the Assembly, even so recently as on October 6th, 1937, with regard to another aggression.
Barely seven months ago the Assembly confirmed the principle embodied in the Covenant in the
following words: “The Assembly assures China of its moral support and recommends Members of
the League of Nations to refrain from any action calculated to weaken the power of resistance of
that country and thereby increase its difficulties in the present conflict, and also to examine
individually the extent to which they might be able to give aid to China.”
|Today the Council is being asked, in regard to Ethiopia, to recommend to Members of the League of
Nations to associate themselves in a measure calculated to weaken the powers of resistance of the
Ethiopian people, thereby aggravating its difficulties in its conflict with Italy, and that they should
examine individually the extent to which they can assist the aggressor.
As against these defaults, and the proposals that are made, whatever the form they assume, I,
legitimate Emperor of Ethiopia, address to all the nations of the world, on behalf of My martyred
people, the most energetic protest.
In order to eventuate the flagrant violation of the Covenant, the suggestion made today to the
Council invokes the de facto situation in Ethiopia at the present time.
But if it were true – and it is not so – that the invader has broken the resistance of My people, even
if in fact he were occupying and administering effectively the territory of My Empire – which is not
the case – even in those circumstances the proposal submitted to the Council should be set aside
Did not the world hail as one of the most important marks of progress in international law, and as
the most effective contribution to the re-organization of peace between nations, the principle
proclaimed a few years ago by the United States of America, namely the refusal to grant juridical
recognition to the results of aggression?
As sovereign of the Ethiopian people, I invoke this principle, for it is My duty to defend the political
independence of the Ethiopian people, the territorial integrity of Ethiopia and at the same time the
life, the property and liberty of each of those individuals and each of those religious or civic
institutions which make up the Ethiopian people.
Unhappily, it is true that My people can now expect from States Members of the League of Nations
no material support. May I at least ask that the rights of My people should continue to be
recognized and that, pending the moment of Divine justice, Ethiopia may remain amongst you as
the living image of violated right.
Do not say that the Ethiopian people will derive no advantage from that, and that the only result
will be a disturbance of international relations. The greatest disturbance that may be caused in
relations between peoples is the confirmation and consecration of a violation of right and of law,
homage paid to the aggressor, the sacrifice of a victim.
Millions of men and women throughout the world are today anxiously following the deliberations
of the League of Nations. They know that this is the tragic hour in which the destiny of the League
is to be determined. Being responsible for ensuring respect for the principles of international
justice, is the League of Nations about to end its own existence by tearing up, with its own hands,
the Covenant which constitutes its sole reason for existence? The magnificent edifice that has just
been reared for the triumph of peace through law, is thus henceforth to become an altar of the cult
of force, a market place in which the independence of peoples becomes the subject of trafficking, a
tomb in which international morality is to be buried?
|My opposition to the suggestions put before the Council derives added force from the actual
situation of fact today existing in Ethiopia.
As I have already stated to the League of Nations in My earlier communications, the Italian
Government does not exercise control over the greater part of the Ethiopian territory. Even in
Tigre, which is the province nearest to Eritrea, the Italian base, the Italian troops control merely the
towns and areas where garrisons have been installed. The remainder of the province is not under
their domination. Garrisons can be supplied by provisions and munitions only by means of aircraft.
The same is true for the province of Begemdir, where there is only one Italian garrison at Gondar,
which is isolated from the rest of the province and which is fed with supplies by aircraft. In the
province of Gojjam there is no Italian domination at all; in the province of Shoa, Italian garrisons
are installed at Addis Ababa and Ankober and along the railway towards Djibouti.
In the province of Wollega, too, Italian garrisons are encamped at Gore, Seyo and Lekempti, and
these occupy merely the towns of those names, while the rest of the province is entirely outside
In the provinces of Jimma, Sidamo, Borana, Bale and Wolamo, the situation is the same, only the
towns of Jiram, Yirga-Alem, Mega, Goba and Ginir are occupied. All the rest of the territory has had
to be evacuated under the pressure of Our warriors.
In the province of Harar, only the towns of Harar and Jijiga are under Italian domination. The rest
of the province is entirely removed from Italian action.
Finally, there is no Italian control at allover the provinces of Danakil and Aussa.
An annex to the present statement contains the petition presented by the Ethiopian warrior chiefs
setting forth the situation and asking for the assistance of the League of Nations, and of the British
Government. All these facts are well known. They are fully confirmed by the news that comes from
the British and French colonies that border on Ethiopia.
The Italian Government itself has had to confess that the expenses incurred by the occupation
amount each year to thousands of millions of lire, without taking account of the expenditure in
1935 and 1936, which amounted to more than 27,000 million lire.
Despite this enormous expenditure, the exploitation of Ethiopian territory has proved to be
impossible. The programme of road construction could not be carried out, not for lack of money,
but because it was impossible to work in a country where guerilla warfare continues implacable
and will continue until the territory is evacuated by the Italians or until the Ethiopian people have
|In order to break down the resistance of My people and its refusal to abandon that independence
which it has enjoyed for more than thirty centuries, the Italian authorities are counting upon
propaganda with the object of demoralizing the people, and in this they make great play with the
abandonment of Ethiopia by the League of Nations.
In Europe the Italian Government proclaims lofty indifference towards the attitude of the Powers
and of the League of Nations; but in reality, it is endeavouring to obtain the recognition of its
conquest which it would then present to the Ethiopian peoples as a condemnation of Ethiopia by
the League. Is not that a demonstration of the practical value of the principle of non-recognition by
the League of annexation by force?
From the existing de facto situation, as it really is in Ethiopia at present, juridical consequences
that are very clear follow. The fact is that war is continuing. International law in time of war grants
the belligerent who occupies a certain point in foreign territory certain temporary provisional and
States outside the conflict have the right to maintain, with the military and civil authorities of the
occupying Powers, certain temporary, provisional, limited relations, concerned with the defence of
the interest of their national resident in the occupied territories.
International law absolutely prohibits the belligerent making any annexation, and it prohibits any
Power that is foreign to the conflict from recognizing the occupant as legal sovereign. Thus the de
facto situation does strengthen and supplement the provisions of the Covenant and of the Pact of
Paris, which in the most categorical way prohibit de jure recognition of annexation, which would
be recognizing the conquest of territory by force.
I am, of course, aware that to justify its action the British Government urges lofty preoccupations.
Nothing less is at stake than action in the view to favour general appeasement through the sacrifice
of a nation and this sacrifice is made dependent on the satisfactory settlement – satisfactory so far
as England and France are concerned – of the Spanish question.
I would ask that this suggestion be set aside. Is it not absolutely incompatible with the spirit of the
Covenant to sacrifice a State Member of the League in order to insure the tranquillity of other
Powers? Is it thus that one serves the international ideal to which the British and French
Governments have so constantly proclaimed their devotion? Do not the small states see the risk by
which they are threatened if they consent to creating so terrible a precedent?
Moreover, even supposing that the suggestion made to the Council by the British Government
came within the competence of any organ of the League of Nations whatsoever, I would in the most
energetic way dispute the suggestion that this is the matter that can be dealt with by the council.
In a matter that is of vital importance both to My country and also to the League of Nations, in a
matter where in fact what is at stake is a decision, a recommendation, a wish (for some other
formula) tending directly or indirectly to free State Members from the obligation that they assumed
when they signed the Covenant, to invite them in practice to recognize de jure the annexation of
Ethiopia by Italy. I assert that a competent authority to discuss such a question is the Assembly of
the League of Nations and the Assembly alone. In this respect Ethiopia would invoke the authority
of the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary, who on December 16, 1936 stated in the House of
Commons: “The question of the recognition of the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and the exclusion of
that country from the League of Nations is a matter for the Assembly of the League of Nations. It is
the Assembly that must take a decision in the light of the circumstances.”
|Ethiopia protests against all subtleties of procedure, the object of which would be to evade the
rules of competence which are clearly written in the Covenant. As the delegate of Portugal said,
nothing can be more repugnant and more hypocritical than the strangling of a nation by procedure.
Will the League of Nations agree to any such things? This Covenant does not allow it.
I formally ask, as I am entitled to do, that the Council should refer this question to the Assembly of
the League of Nations, before whom it is in fact already laid, and I ask, as is My right, that the
Assembly of the League of Nations should proceed to this examination.
The distinguished representative of Great Britain has just put the question very clearly. He said
there are at present two ideals in conflict, the ideal of devotion to a lofty aim, and the ideal of
ensuring peace as a practical measure. He asserted that it is often difficult to reconcile what is
ideally just with what is possible in practice. He asserted that it is the essential mission of the
League to maintain peace. Yes, the League has as its essential object the maintenance of peace. But
there are different ways to maintain peace; there is the maintenance of peace through right, and
there is peace at any price. Ethiopia firmly believes that the League of Nations has no freedom of
choice in this matter. It would be committing suicide, if, after having been created, to maintain
peace through right, it were to abandon that principle, and adopt instead the principle of peace at
any price, even the price of the immolation of a State Member at the feet of its aggressor.
In concluding this statement, in which with all the strength of mind and heart at My disposal I have
endeavoured to work for the defence of My people, I cannot refrain from reverting to the year
1923, the year in which My Empire was admitted to the League of Nations. I then assumed an
undertaking to lead My people along the path of progress of western civilization, which seemed to
Me to be something superior to the state at which My country had arrived. Since that time I spared
no effort in order to ensure success. Important results had been achieved. I note with deep sorrow
that all My work has been overthrown, blotted out by the Italian aggression.
But one unexpected result was ensured in Ethiopia as indeed has been the case in other countries.
The Italian aggression has brought the Ethiopian Chiefs more closely round the Emperor than at
any other period. In the document that I am communicating to the League of Nations there are
included letters of affection from Ethiopian chiefs and from the people. As The Emperor of Ethiopia
basing Myself on the faithful devotion of My chiefs, My warriors, on the affection of My people,
being desirous of putting an end if possible to the sufferings, I repeat the declaration that I have
made already in the League of Nations. I am prepared now, as I was previously, to discuss any
proposal for a solution which even at the cost of sacrifice would ensure to My people the free
development of their civilization and of their independence.
|Haile Selassie the First - 1938|