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Selected Speeches Of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I



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 friendship.

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.

Contrary To Covenant

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 Britain.

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.”

Energetic Protest

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 without hesitation.

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?

Actual Situation

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 their action.

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 all over 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 been exterminated.

Enemy Propaganda

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 limited powers.

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.”

Protests Procedure

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.

May, 1938.*

* The published edition does not have a date appended to this speech. The probable date of delivery to the Council is 12th probably, or 19th possibly, which we have gleaned from p.192-193 of "Bibliographica Aethiopica II: The Horn of Africa in English Literature" by Hans Wilhelm Lockot. - Ed.


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Emperor Haile Sellassie First Theocracy Reign
Order of the Nyahbinghi

March 22, 2017