Council of the League of Nations
May 9, 1938
"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, [then] 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:
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 [Ethiopian] 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, [how] can they feel the responsibility of living up to their obligations?
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 submission 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.
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 [Italian-inspired] 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.
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 focused 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 [of Ethiopia's changed status] 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:
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 [to maintain], 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.
I deeply regret my disagreement with a government which I heartily admire and to which I am greatly indebted. It was [this government] which showed me generosity and hospitality at the time of my grief. I will not forget my debt to Britain and France.
I would like to mention the French government which, fifteen years ago, strongly supported my country's admission to the League of Nations. At all times, France has counselled and upheld Ethiopia's interest during my rule and the reigns of my predecessors. I cannot forget this faithful and friendly assistance of the past.
However, as Emperor of Ethiopia, I have an overriding responsibility and obligation to defend my people, the people whose humiliating travail I referred to the League of Nations three years ago...I respectfully and strongly appeal to the British government, whose sincerity, generosity and sympathy to the human race is known around the world, to reconsider its proposed resolution concerning Ethiopia's case. Is not the interpretation of article 10 the one defined by the General Assembly of the League and applied to another case of aggression on October 6, 1937. It was seven months ago that the General Assembly affirmed the basic interpretation of the Charter in the following words: The General Assembly resolves to assist the Chinese government against any action that undermines its power to defend against the aggression which has befallen it and solicits its members to look for ways to help China.
Today, the League of Nations Council is being requested to look for ways in which further to weaken the Ethiopian people, to exacerbate the difficulties in their struggle against Italy, and for member states to extend individual and collective assistance to the aggressor. I, the Emperor of Ethiopia, on behalf of my afflicted people, appeal to all governments of the world and express my strong opposition to these troublesome probabilities. The proposal which is presented today to the Council belittles the gravity of the Ethiopian situation in order to facilitate the violation of the Charter of the League of Nations.
The notion that the aggressor has broken the will of my people is far from reality. Even if this had happened and [the aggressor] had brought the entire imperial territory under its administration, to accept the current proposal is not the right thing to do. Has not the whole world accepted the proposal made a few years ago by the United States of America —that not to recognize a territory acquired by aggression is a fundamental principle of human rights and the best insurance for peace and tranquility? I would like to remind you that, as the ruler of the people of Ethiopia, it is my responsibility to defend Ethiopia's political independence and territorial integrity, the way of life of its civilian population, the administration of its church, and the personal freedom and the right to life of the individual citizen.
It is a pity that [the Ethiopian people] have not received financial or military assistance from member states of the League of Nations. Though this has proven impossible, until God's justice is rendered, I think I have the right to request you to recognize the rights of my people lest Ethiopia became a symbol of a discredited Charter. To assume that [recognizing the rights of Ethiopians] will... lead to the collapse of amicable relations between nations is completely untenable. What will stimulate animosity in international relations are violating the law, ignoring agreements, rewarding the aggressor, and sacrificing the victim.
Today, millions of men and women around the world somberly observe the debate in the League. They understand that this is the agonizing moment when Ethiopia's destiny will be decided. Does the League of Nations, which is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring justice, really want to discard the Charter which justifies its very existence and, by doing so, commit suicide? Is this ornate building...going to become the temple of those who worship aggression and suborn sovereignty, and the tomb of international good intentions?
Today when I submit my objections to the idea that just came before the League's Council, the state of resistance in Ethiopia adds vigor to [my objection]. The reality [of the situation] is not the one that was presented to members of the Council. As I have reported to the League, the Italian government does not fully control vast portions of Ethiopia's territory. Even in Tigray, the region contiguous to Eritrea, Italian soldiers are present only in towns and in places where large numbers of people congregate. They dare not set foot in [rural] areas. Supplies and ammunition are transported to remote garrisons only by air. Even soldiers stationed in Gonder and Debre Tabor are supplied by air, since there is no other means of transportation. There is not one Italian governor in Gojam. In Shewa, Italian soldiers are found only in Addis Ababa, near Ankober, and along the rail line to Djibouti. Inside Welega, there are Italian detachments occupying the towns of Gore, Sayo and Nekemte proper. They have not set foot in the outlying areas. The same situation is true for Jima, Borena, Sidamo, Bale and Walamo. They have occupied the towns of Jiren, Yirga Alem, Mega, Goba, and Ginir. From other areas, however, they were driven out by Our fighters. In Harerge, the towns of Harer and Jijiga, as well as the railroad, are occupied. The [fascists] have not set foot in the rest of the areas [and] have no control over Danakil [Afar] and Awsa...
These things are well publicized, and the reports that come from the adjacent British and French colonies are very much consistent with them. The Italian government itself has admitted that, in addition to the one billion lire that it had spent in 1935 and 1936, it is now spending many billions of lire annually on the occupation. Thus, it has not been possible to do anything beneficial for the country, and even the construction of roads has been discontinued. The colonial regime's inactivity emanates not only from the lack of finance, but also from the existence in the country of incessant warfare, with no prospect of an end in sight unless either the Italians leave the country or all Ethiopians are annihilated.
The Italian authorities preach a propaganda of desperation so that they can break the will of my people, who are ardently defending their 3000-year-old independence. [Fascist] propaganda is based on the hope that the League of Nations will abandon Ethiopia. The Italian government views other European governments and the League of Nations with contempt and arrogance. The truth is, it seeks recognition for its occupation so that it may tell the Ethiopian people that the verdict of the League of Nations was against them. This [aim] clearly reveals the value of the principle, to which the League has been committed, of not recognizing a territory seized by force.
The current situation in Ethiopia, as far as the law is concerned, is very clear. Under international law, one belligerent is permitted to exercise an undefined, temporary and limited authority over the other when the [two parties] are in a state of war. Neutral governments can establish a temporary and limited communication with the military or civilian authorities of the occupier in order to safeguard the interests of their citizens. [The law] prohibits the occupying government from annexing a territory that is not its own and absolutely prevents nonbelligerent governments from recognizing the occupier as the legitimate authority [of the occupied country]
Therefore, since recognizing one's territory as the legal [possession] of the other is tantamount to affirming occupation by force, [such an action] belies the legality of the League's Charter and the Treaty of Paris. The current situation in Ethiopia confirms the [validity of the] principles contained in these agreements.
The British government... [seeks to] manipulate these great and noble principles in its attempt to legitimize Italy's aggression. However, such an approach abandons a whole society to achieve international stability.... I call for the rejection of this proposal. Sacrificing a member of the League for the satisfaction of another government is completely incompatible with the spirit of the Charter. Is this the manner in which Britain and France would like to implement and enforce the basic precepts of the League of Nations which they have consistently supported? How about the small governments; do they not see the frightening danger they bring on themselves for allowing this to happen?
Furthermore, even if the British government's proposal is regarded as an issue that the League of Nations should entertain, I strongly question the authority of the League's Council to make the final decision. Concerning this issue of immense significance for my country and the League of Nations, whether it be directly or indirectly to recognize Italy's claim over Ethiopia, or to make a proposal, or to express wishes, or to set member states free from the obligations they entered into when they signed the League's Charter, or to legalize Italy's claim over Ethiopia, let me express emphatically that the authority to investigate such matters belongs to the General Assembly of the League of Nations. This stance is supported in a speech by the British Foreign Secretary who, while addressing the British parliament, has said, in regard either to recognizing Italy's claim over Ethiopia or expelling [the latter] from the League, the job belongs to the General Assembly; [and] the League makes its decision after examining the prevailing state of conditions. Ethiopia objects to... altering accepted procedures clearly spelled out in the Charter. As the Portuguese envoy said, nothing is so embarrassingly deplorable as to destroy a whole population by pretending to be fulfilling procedural requirements. Can the League of Nations allow this to happen, when the Charter does not permit such an outcome?
Since this case has already been before the General Assembly, I gather that it is my right to request the matter to be forwarded, once again [to that body]. I ask therefore that [the case] be sent to the General Assembly for examination.
The famous British envoy related, "today, two great wishes are in competition; one is to hold steadfast to noble wishes, the second is to think about achieving immediate peace; these are the two things." He added emphatically that, "it is often difficult to reconcile the theoretical idea of justice with what can actually be achieved." Indeed, the League's primary objective is to keep peace. There are two ways... The first is... through legal means. The second is... by doing whatever it takes.
Ethiopia firmly believes that the League of Nations can not select the second route. Since the League was established to maintain peace by legal means, to betray this underlying principle and to deliver a member state at the foot of an aggressor is the same as committing suicide.
As I present these testimonies with all my spirit, with all my soul, and with all my capacity to defend my people, I cannot help but think of the day my imperial government joined the League of Nations in 1923. It was then that I accepted the obligation of leading my country to what I considered was a more advanced civilization than the level... my country had reached. Thereafter, I worked unceasingly toward that end, and my efforts had yielded results. I watched with anguish while my success was obliterated and turned upside down because of Italy's aggressive invasion.
As has happened in many other countries, in Ethiopia, too, the war of aggression produced some unexpected fruits. Italy's invasion drew Ethiopian authorities closer to their emperor than ever before. Among some of the letters... [they] and the people have sent to the League of Nations are those which express love for their Emperor. I, the Emperor of Ethiopia, on the basis of the loyalty of my military commanders and the love of my people, resubmit the appeal I already have made, in order to bring the affliction of [my people] to an end. If there be a compromise that would ensure my peoples' advancement and full independence I am today, as ever before, prepared to consider it. However, if my appeal does not yield a response, for better or for worse, the war against Italy shall not cease until justice and lawfulness has prevailed. I entreat the League not to accept Italy's proposal because her intention is to bolster her aggressive posture by sacrificing the victim of her aggression."
His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I