765.84116/42: Telegram (part air)

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

16. I have been confidentially informed by the Secretary General of the International Committee of the Red Cross that the President of the Committee, Dr. Huber, is in receipt of a personal letter from Mussolini dated January 16 which Red Cross officials here consider of great importance as showing a disposition on the part of the Italian Government to respect its commitments under the Geneva and Hague Conventions.

The Committee desires to communicate its contents to the National Red Cross societies and has sought permission from Rome to do so and its contents are treated as strictly confidential even the fact of its receipt being withheld from the press. I have been given to understand, however, that it embodies the following points.

The Italian Government has complete confidence in the impartiality of the International Committee in the exercise of its good offices. It [Page 40] fully approves of the humanitarian principles and objectives of the Red Cross and deplores the “accidents” which have occurred as a result of the operations of the Italian air forces over wide areas and under the difficulty of limiting the objective of aerial bombardment. Italian aviators it said will endeavor to respect hospitals and dressing stations shown to be under Red Cross protection in spite of their use by combatants as places of refuge.

Attention was again called to the alleged widespread improper use of the Red Cross by Ethiopians and it was requested that the Committee instruct its mission in Ethiopia to investigate the situation.

Particular reference was made to the most recent Italian complaint regarding atrocities and use of dumdum bullets. (Consulate’s telegram No. 15, January 20, 3 p.m.10). This was cited as showing the pressing need for an investigation by the International Committee’s representatives in Ethiopia and for continued efforts to restrain Ethiopians from perpetrating acts contrary to the generally recognized standards of warfare.

I am told that the tone of the communication was extremely courteous. This in addition to its context causes the Committee to feel that the Italian Government has finally become responsive to world opinion in the matter of the bombardment of hospital units. No particular reference was made in the communication to the bombardment of the Swedish hospital although the exchanges of letters in that case between the International Committee and the Italian Red Cross are believed to have prompted Mussolini’s unusual course in writing directly and in person to Dr. Huber.

Red Cross officials have expressed to me their feeling that this communication from Mussolini is a striking justification of the Committee’s policy of absolute neutrality which has been criticized in some quarters as showing moderation and caution with respect to Ethiopian complaints of Italian air bombardment.

  1. Post, p. 94.