765.84/333: Telegram

The Consul at Geneva ( Gilbert ) to the Secretary of State

201. (a) In a meeting called at 1 o’clock this morning to consider the Italian-Abyssinian dispute the Council adopted unanimously and simultaneously two resolutions of which the following are the texts.17

Resolution No. 1.

“(1) Whereas at the meeting of the Council in January 1935 the Italian Government and the Ethiopian Government agreed to settle the dispute which has arisen between them as the result of the incident at Walwal on December 5, 1934, in conformity with article 5 of the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of August 2, 1928;

“(2) Whereas direct negotiations through diplomatic channels having been exhausted the two parties have nominated their arbitrators as provided for in article 5 of the above-mentioned treaty;

“(3) Whereas since December 5, 1934 other incidents have taken place on the Italo-Ethiopian frontier and the two Governments are in agreement in entrusting the settlement of these incidents to the same arbitrators in accordance with article 5 of the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty;

“(4) Whereas the Italian Government in view of the request which has been made to it makes no objection regarding the nationality of the arbitrators nominated by the Ethiopian Government;

“(5) Whereas the two Governments agree to fix August 25th next as the date on which the procedure of conciliation and arbitration shall be concluded:

“The Council,

“Requests the Secretary General of the League of Nations to communicate in the meantime to the members of the Council all information which may reach him from the two parties in particular regarding the development of the arbitrators’ work.”

Resolution No. 2

“The Council,

“Leaving to the two parties full liberty to settle the dispute in question in accordance with article 5 of the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of August 2, 1928,

“Decides to meet if, in default of agreement between the four arbitrators for the settlement of the dispute, an understanding shall not have been reached by July 25th between these arbitrators as to the selection of the fifth arbitrator (unless the four arbitrators agree to [Page 604] the extension of this period); the Council also decides to meet to examine the situation if on August 25th the settlement by means of conciliation and arbitration should not have taken place.”

(b) The representative of Abyssinia, Jèze,18 stated that before the Council reached a decision on the resolutions he desired to make clear the meaning on certain points which the Abyssinian Government attaches thereto and to ask the Italian delegate to express his agreement. (1) All of the unsettled incidents that had occurred on the Italo-Abyssinian frontier would be submitted to the arbitrators who would take into consideration all circumstances of a nature to influence a solution of the dispute including the interpretation of treaties relating to frontiers. (2) Determination of the frontier would follow immediately upon the decision of the arbitrators. (3) Throughout the whole of the arbitral procedure and the examination if any by the Council the two powers would respect the undertakings in articles 2 and 5 of the 1928 Treaty. Under article 2 both powers agreed not to take any action calculated to prejudice the independence of the other and consequently Italy would refrain from increasing her forces in East Africa and from preparing for aggression against Abyssinia with the troops already there. (4) The Council although leaving the Governments full liberty to settle the dispute under article 5 would not abandon its interest in the dispute or in the development of the arbitral procedure.

(c) Aloisi18a in his reply reiterated the position taken by Italy throughout in regard to the procedures of direct negotiation and conciliation under the Treaty of 1928.

Regarding the Commission’s power to interpret the Treaty of 1908 he observed that even if Walwal were ultimately assigned to Abyssinia the fact of the Abyssinian aggression there would retain all its gravity. The treaty of 1908 laid down the procedure for the delimitation of the frontier. Italy was prepared to resume the delimitation as soon as the dispute in course was settled but it could not agree to any other procedure than that laid down in the treaty. For reasons of prestige it could not agree forthwith to the resumption of the delimitation.

The Italian Government under the circumstances had naturally placed its colonies in a state of defense but the unprecedented publicity with which it had accompanied the measures taken showed the nature of its intentions. In any case Italy could not admit that measures for the legitimate defense of its territory should constitute the subject of remarks from any quarter whatsoever.

He stated that “when a dispute is in the regular course submitted to a procedure of arbitration … the Council is not called upon to [Page 605] take any initiative”. Maneuvers devised to alarm or misdirect opinion might disturb the course of procedure and make the dispute worse than it is.

After these general observations Aloisi concluded as follows:

“Now, to reply to the questions that were put to me by the representative of Ethiopia, I would say, in the first place, that the Italian Government does not in any way intend to limit the duty entrusted to the arbitrators in accordance with the provisions of the 1928 Treaty, but it cannot in any case agree that their consideration should be directed to questions of frontier delimitation. On this point we agree.

In the second place, no authority would desire in any way to prejudice the exercise of its sovereignty by our Government. By accepting the arbitration procedure we have shown our anxiety to respect the undertakings entered into by both Governments. My reply will therefore be perfectly clear. If my Government accepts the procedure of conciliation and arbitration, it is because it intends to conform thereto”.

(d) The Abyssinian representative then remarked that he interpreted the Italian statement as agreeing that while the frontier delimitation must be in accordance with the treaty the arbitrators were free to take into account all circumstances affecting the dispute and in particular the treaties respecting the frontiers from that point of view.

(e) Aloisi repeated that Italy was not restricting in any way the liberty of the arbitrators except with respect to the delimitation of the frontiers.

(f) A member of the British delegation has informed me that the unusual procedure of passing simultaneously two separate resolutions was adopted at the request of Aloisi in order that the Italian Government in informing the press might concentrate emphasis on the first resolution.

  1. See League of Nations, Official Journal, June 1935, p. 640.
  2. Gaston Jèze, French legal counsel of the Abyssinian Government; professor of law at the University of Paris.
  3. Baron Pompeo Aloisi, chief Italian delegate to the League of Nations.