The Acting Secretary of State to the Minister in Ethiopia (Southard)

No. 122

Sir: The receipt is acknowledged of your despatch No. 311 of December 26, 1929, with reference to the action of the diplomatic corps in Ethiopia concerning an Ethiopian decree regulating certain types of mining exploitation.

While the situation in Ethiopia is somewhat different from that in other countries in the Near East where the United States enjoys extraterritorial privileges, by reason of the more limited power of American consular courts in Ethiopia, yet reference to the action taken by this Government in another one of the capitulatory countries may be of value to you.

In Morocco, American citizens and ressortissants are not amenable to decrees promulgated by the Moroccan authorities unless the consent of this Government to the application of the provisions of those decrees is asked and received. When the consent of this Government is asked to Moroccan laws, it takes particular care not to assume an obstructive position but usually gives its consent to any reasonable regulations promulgated for the benefit of the general welfare of Morocco which bear equally upon all persons resident in Morocco and gives its consent to such decrees with the specific reservations that infractions of such decrees in which American citizens or ressortissants are involved shall be referred to the American consular courts for decision. The reason underlying this reservation is not so much to give the American national or ressortissant the benefit of specific provisions of American law as it is to prevent the American national or ressortissant from being subject to penalties or punishments which are looked upon with disfavor by the American people. If an infraction involving an American national or ressortissant should occur and there is a penalty of a generally similar nature imposed by American laws the consular court may use its discretion as to the penalty to be applied.

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While the American consular jurisdiction enjoyed in Ethiopia does not permit the exercise of jurisdiction over an American citizen violating Ethiopian law, and American law is applied only where the violation involved the commission of what is generally considered a crime rather than a breach of regulations, yet the system under the treaty does provide that the American consul may sit with the Ethiopian judge in the consideration of the case. If the American consul does not agree with the decision of the Ethiopian judge in such a case, it is understood that the matter is referred to the King whose decision will be final. However, the interests of an American citizen may be protected through diplomatic representation if the decision of the King is considered to amount to a denial of justice.

Under such conditions there would seem to be sufficient protection afforded to American citizens in Ethiopia and, therefore, the mere fact that the consular court can not, of itself, take jurisdiction over American citizens violating Ethiopian law should not necessarily impel the American representative in Ethiopia to protest against the enactment of Ethiopian decrees which are made for the general welfare of residents of Ethiopia, provided they bear on all persons alike and cause no discrimination against an American citizen.

It is thought, therefore, that you may care to take a position which is not calculated to obstruct the endeavors of the Ethiopian Government to enact reasonable laws for the conduct of residents in Ethiopia, and that you would only feel impelled to raise objections if the laws contemplated discriminated against the interests of American citizens or were of such a nature as would provide cruel and unusual punishments such as would shock the sensibilities of the American people.

I am [etc.]

For the Acting Secretary of State:
G. Howland Shaw