The Role of the Vatican in Supporting and Abetting the 1935-41 Occupation of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy

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WHEN WILL THE VATICAN APOLOGIZE TO ETHIOPIA? (by Kidane Alemayehu) 1. ABSTRACT This paper attempts to analyze the role of The Vatican in supporting and abetting the 1935-41 occupation of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy. As a result of the atrocities committed by Fascist Italy, Ethiopia suffered immense losses including at least a million people killed, substantial properties destroyed, and the perpetration of gross human rights abuses. Whereas The Vatican has repeatedly expressed its apology to Jews for its complicity with the Nazis who perpetrated the infamous holocaust during the Second World War, no such apology has been extended to the Ethiopian nation. In the view of this paper, it is time that The Vatican owns up to its historic injustice to Ethiopia and, as a Christian entity, express its full apology to the nation. This paper also emphasizes the importance of highlighting and correcting past injustices in order to put out smoldering fires of unresolved issues and to mitigate against any similar recurrences. 2. ADOWA AND ITS CONSEQUENCES There is no doubt that the Italian occupation of Ethiopia during World War II was a direct consequence of the humiliating defeat it suffered at Adowa in March 1896 at the hands of a proud African nation, Ethiopia. In his book: “My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress” (1929 EC), H.I.M. Haile Selassie I quotes his famous letter to the League of Nations in which he stated: “Italy is determined not to finalize the issue peacefully. Her aim is to spill a lot of blood for a revenge of Adowa.” (1) It became the function of the Fascist Ita witt

the Ethiopian people as well as animals, and the environment in general was unprecedented and totally against international law. Emperor Haile Selassie stated: “Italian airplanes came in drones of 9, 15, and 18 to drop rains of poison gas on people, animals, rivers and streams as well as pastures.” (2) His Imperial Majesty further stated: “The picture of many thousands of soldiers as well as rural people including women and children who were burned to death by the poison gas used by the enemy is still etched in our mind.” (3) In his Amharic book entitled: “The Ethio-Italian War” (4), Paulos Gnogno presented the quantification of Ethiopia’s losses as follows: Churches destroyed:……………………………….2,000 Homes destroyed…………………………………..525,000 People killed……………………………………….760,000* Animals killed……………………………………..14 million *This figure was a preliminary estimate. A later interview by Woletta Selassie of several patriots residing in Ethiopia and USA revealed that the number of persons killed by the Fascists was not less than 1 million. Paulos Gnogno also reported that whereas Ethiopia’s claim for compensation was 185 million (pounds sterling), what it was able to obtain was only 6 million (pounds sterlng) (5). The inadequacy of this compensation has been commented upon by several scholars. One put it this way: “The allotted compensation of twenty four million dollars in the Peace Treaty of 1947 did not even begin to address the harm committed by Italy to Ethiopia. We must open the file for additional compensation of at least ten to fifty billion dollars from the modern state of Italy. We must also prosecute the main players such as surviving commanders and soldiers responsible for the genocide committed by Italian commanders and soldiers. We have not properly dealt with the deaths of millions of Ethiopians due to the war of aggression and brutal occupation of Ethiopia in the 1935-41 period by Mussolini and his Italian government.”(6)

For the sake of comparison, one can refer to the compensation for the holocaust against Jews, which is known to be in billions of dollars. Even more important is the fact that the heirs of the holocaust especially the German government as well as the Vatican have expressed their repeated apologies to the Jews. Examples of reports of The Vatican’s apologies to Jews are as follows: BBC: “The Vatican has apologized to Jews on behalf of the...
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