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Small states and big powers

EditorialSmall states and big powers

As the big powers continue to look on at the one-sided slaughter in Gaza, despite overwhelming condemnation by nations worldwide including Belize, it should be a vital concern to us that in this Middle East situation, “might” does not prevail against “right,” as that could spell an unsettling premonition of problems if and when the ICJ vote comes in our favor. And in that regard, we are reminded of the historic words of warning by the little giant of a man from Ethiopia to all the mighty nations of the world.

Many Belizeans thronged to the Princess Ramada last week to see the Bob Marley movie, and no doubt are familiar with the powerful song, “War”, whose words were taken from a famous speech to the United Nations in 1963 by His Majesty, the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. Those immortal words will live on, but it would be wise for us to reflect on the context within which those words were uttered; and in compliance with this “Black History Month”, perhaps it is fitting that we do a brief review of the history behind that memorable speech.

According to Wikipedia, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie first addressed the League of Nations assembly in Geneva on May 12, 1936, in “a speech condemning Italian military aggression against Ethiopia (on October 3, 1935), which had forced him into exile…The speech also denounced the Italian army’s use of chemical weapons against the Ethiopian population.”

The Italian aggression against Ethiopia had violated “Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, signed by both states” which clearly stated: “Should any Member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants under Articles 12, 13 or 15, it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other Members of the League, which hereby undertake immediately to subject it to the severance of all trade”, etc. etc. (our underlining)

On October 6, 1935, the Council of the League of Nations had “officially condemned the Italian attack,” and on November 3, “the sanctions discussed by the committee were approved” which would “come into effect on the 18th.” But Italian dictator Mussolini was unfazed, and “with a convergent maneuver supported by artillery and air force, resumed the initiative, achieving the victory of Amba Aradam (Feb. 11–15, 1936) and annihilating the bulk of the Ethiopian army (80,000 men).”

Completely overpowered, and to avoid seeing the capital city Addis Ababa “completely destroyed by aviation,” Selassie chose “involuntary exile from his country and went to Bath, Great Britain,” after a short visit to Jerusalem where he prayed with Ethiopian monks “at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.” He then went to Geneva, for his address on May 12 to the League of Nations “in the absence of the Italian government delegation,” which had withdrawn after learning of the League’s granting the opportunity to Selassie.

In a speech “considered by some among the most stirring of the 20th century, and a possible warning for future generations,” Emperor in exile Haile Selassie reminded the governments assembled in Geneva that they were responsible “for the lives of millions of men, women and children;” and described how the Italian Government had installed special sprayers on aircraft to spray “soldiers, women, children, cattle, rivers, lakes and pastures” with a deadly poison fog. In his closing words, Selassie declared: “Apart from the Kingdom of the Lord, there is not on this earth any nation that is superior to any other. Should it happen that a strong Government finds it may with impunity destroy a weak people, then the hour strikes for that weak people to appeal to the League of Nations to give its judgment in all freedom. God and history will remember your judgment. […]»

Nevertheless, on June 30, 1936, Selassie’s proposal to not recognize the Italian conquests in Ethiopia “was rejected by 23 votes against, 1 in favor, and 25 abstentions. And by July 4, just 7 months after the sanctions were voted on to be applied, “the League of Nations lifted the sanctions, dealing a mortal blow to the credibility of the League itself.”

However, the impact of Selassie’s words may have made a difference, because “the Italian conquest was never formally recognized by the international organization, as Ethiopia’s seat in the assembly remained attributed to Haile Selassie.” This, and also being denied “any form of reparations,” prompted the fascist Mussolini (in 1937) to “announce his exit from the League of Nations.”

When Italy entered World War II on the side of Germany and the Axis powers (on June 10, 1940), “one of the world powers, the United Kingdom,” moved to liberate Ethiopia, pushing back Italian troops “with the help of Ethiopian resistance, until the surrender was achieved.”

Thus, on May 5, 1941, Emperor Haile Selassie in dramatic fashion “entered Addis Ababa in an uncovered Alfa Romeo, preceded by Colonel Orde Wingate on a white horse.” And in a magnanimous gesture of peace, having just returned to his capital, His Majesty, Haile Selassie “urged all Ethiopians not to take revenge on the Italians or repay them for the atrocities they had committed for five years.”

“Italy’s renunciation of all its colonies was formalized with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1947. With Ethiopia, also a counterpart in the signing of the peace treaty, Italy ended an uninterrupted state of war that began in 1935 and, implicitly, admitted the illegality of the annexation carried out in 1936, on the international legal level.”

Today, in light of the current crisis in Gaza, and the role being played by the United Nations (successor to the League of Nations) and specifically its International Court of Justice, the words of His Majesty Haile Selassie are perhaps worth recalling when he addressed the United Nations on October 4, 1963.

The speech is typically credited as the inspiration for Bob Marley’s hit song “War”, and the translation is that provided by the United Nations from the web site en.wikisource.org.

Below we share selected introductory paragraphs, followed by the excerpted portion that Marley used in his song.

Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia

Selassie’s Address to the United Nations (1963)

Twenty-seven years ago, as Emperor of Ethiopia, I mounted the rostrum in Geneva, Switzerland, to address the League of Nations and to appeal for relief from the destruction which had been unleashed against my defenseless nation, by the Fascist invader. I spoke then both to and for the conscience of the world. My words went unheeded, but history testifies to the accuracy of the warning that I gave in 1936.

Today, I stand before the world organization which has succeeded to the mantle discarded by its discredited predecessor. In this body is enshrined the principle of collective security which I unsuccessfully invoked at Geneva. Here, in this Assembly, reposes the best – perhaps the last – hope for the peaceful survival of mankind …

In the United States of America, the administration of President Kennedy is leading a vigorous attack to eradicate the remaining vestige of racial discrimination from this country. We know that this conflict will be won and that right will triumph. In this time of trial, these efforts should be encouraged and assisted, and we should lend our sympathy and support to the American Government today.

Last May, in Addis Ababa, I convened a meeting of Heads of African States and Governments. In three days, the thirty-two nations represented at that Conference demonstrated to the world that when the will and the determination exist, nations and peoples of diverse backgrounds can and will work together in unity, to the achievement of common goals and the assurance of that equality and brotherhood which we desire.

On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson:

that until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned;

that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation;

that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes;

that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race;

that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed;

until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will;

until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven;

until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil …

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