Mr. Olney to Baron Fava.
Washington , June 20, 1895.
Excellency: Circumstances have prevented an earlier reply to the note you were pleased to address to the late Secretary of State on the 11th ultimo, communicating a copy of the circular dispatch of his excellency the Italian minister for foreign affairs, under date of April 20 last, touching the provisions of the general act of Brussels of 1890 so far as the same inhibits dealing in slaves and in arms and ammunition in Ethiopia and the neighboring Italian dependencies.
The question of the extent of the obligations incumbent upon the United States, which have no territorial interests in the regions covered by the said general act, and the steps to be taken in view thereof, has on previous occasions had the attention of this Government; and I have [Page 965] the honor to recite the following passage in the annual message of the President to the Congress of the United States, dated December 4, 1893:
By Article XII of the general act of Brussels signed July 2, 1890, for the suppression of the slave trade and the restriction of certain injurious commerce in the Independent State of the Congo and in the adjacent zone of Central Africa, the United States and the other signatory powers agreed to adopt appropriate means for the punishment of persons selling arms and ammunition to the natives and for the confiscation of the inhibited articles. It being the plain duty of this Government to aid in suppressing the nefarious traffic, impairing, as it does, the praiseworthy and civilizing efforts now in progress in that region, I recommend that an act be passed prohibiting the sale of arms and intoxicants to natives in the regulated zone by our citizens.
That recommendation has not yet been acted upon by Congress.
Prior to this suggestion by the President, the Government of Belgium addressed this Government on the subject, advancing the proposition that the provisions of Article XII of the general act of 1890 are obligatory upon all of the signatory powers, without distinction whether they have or have not possessions or protectorates in Africa, and that they are consequently constrained to adopt the measures contemplated by said article for the punishment of persons unlawfully trafficking in arms and ammunition.
In response to this proposition, the minister of Belgium at this capital was informed on the 6th of February, 1893, that there was then pending a proposal made by the British Government to the several powers interested in the Western Pacific and trading therewith looking to the adoption, by international accord, of measures restrictive of the traffic in spirituous liquors, firearms, and ammunition in that region; that the Government of the United States had given its assent to the principal of that proposal; that the consummation of such an arrangement with the participation of the United States would call for some general legislation by Congress regulating and penalizing such traffic when engaged in by citizens of the United States, and that in such event the needful legislation might conveniently be made broad enough to cover not only that arrangement, but generally any obligation which this Government may have under the Brussels general act as regards similar traffic on the African continent.
The Western Pacific project, in which our philanthropic citizens are deeply interested because concerning uncivilized regions and communities with which citizens of the United States carry on extensive trade, has not, however, as yet assumed international proportions, and no general legislation on the subject has been had.
In the absence of appropriate statutory provisions, this Government is without judicial or other machinery to punish, in Ethiopia or any part of the African territor under Italian control or influence, infractions by American citizens of the general act of Berlin as regards traffic in firearms and ammunition. So far as is known, no commerce is carried on by citizens of the United States in those quarters, and no practical application of the considerations advanced by his excellency the minister for foreign affairs is thought to be likely.