Haile Selassie – Address to the United Nations General Assembly – 6 October 1963

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates:

Twenty-seven years ago, as Emperor of Ethiopia, I mounted the rostrum in Geneva,
Switzerland, to address the League of Nations and to appeal for relief from the
destruction which had been unleashed against my defenseless nation by the
Fascist invader. I spoke then both to and for the conscience of the world. My
words went unheeded, but history testifies to the accuracy of the warning that
I gave in 1936.

Today, I stand before the world organization which has succeeded to the mantle
discarded by its discredited predecessor. In this body is enshrined the principle
of collective security which I unsuccessfully invoked at Geneva. Here, in this
Assembly, reposes the best — perhaps the last — hope for the peaceful
survival of mankind.

In 1936, I declared that it was not the Covenant of the League that was at stake,
but international morality. Undertakings, I said then, are of little worth if
the will to keep them is lacking. The Charter of the United Nations expresses
the noblest aspirations of man: abjuration of force in the settlement of
disputes between states; the assurance of human rights and fundamental freedoms
for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion; the
safeguarding of international peace and security.

But these, too, as were the phrases of the Covenant, are only words; their value
depends wholly on our will to observe and honor them and give them content and
meaning. The preservation of peace and the guaranteeing of man’s basic freedoms
and rights require courage and eternal vigilance: courage to speak and act –
and if necessary, to suffer and die – for truth and justice; eternal vigilance,
that the least transgression of international morality shall not go undetected
and unremedied. These lessons must be learned anew by each succeeding
generation, and that generation is fortunate indeed which learns from other
than its own bitter experience. This Organization and each of its members bear
a crushing and awesome responsibility: to absorb the wisdom of history and to
apply it to the problems of the present, in order that future generations may
be born, and live, and die, in peace.

The record of the United Nations during the few short years of its life affords
mankind a solid basis for encouragement and hope for the future. The United
Nations has dared to act, when the League dared not in Palestine, in Korea, in
Suez, in the Congo. There is not one among us today who does not conjecture
upon the reaction of this body when motives and actions are called into
question. The opinion of this Organization today acts as a powerful influence
upon the decisions of its members. The spotlight of world opinion, focused by
the United Nations upon the transgressions of the renegades of human society,
has thus far proved an effective safeguard against unchecked aggression and
unrestricted violation of human rights.

The United Nations continues to sense as the forum where nations whose interests
clash may lay their cases before world opinion. It still provides the essential
escape valve without which the slow build-up of pressures would have long since
resulted in catastrophic explosion. Its actions and decisions have speeded the
achievement of freedom by many peoples on the continents of Africa and Asia.
Its efforts have contributed to the advancement of the standard of living of
peoples in all corners of the world.

For this, all men must give thanks. As I stand here today, how faint, how remote
are the memories of 1936.How different in 1963 are the attitudes of men. We
then existed in an atmosphere of suffocating pessimism. Today, cautious yet buoyant
optimism is the prevailing spirit. But each one of us here knows that what has
been accomplished is not enough.

The United Nations judgments have been and continue to be subject to frustration,
as individual member-states have ignored its pronouncements and disregarded its
recommendations. The Organization’s sinews have been weakened, as member-states
have shirked their obligations to it. The authority of the Organization has
been mocked, as individual member-states have proceeded, in violation of its
commands, to pursue their own aims and ends. The troubles which continue to
plague us virtually all arise among member states of the Organization, but the
Organization remains impotent to enforce acceptable solutions. As the maker and
enforcer of the international law, what the United Nations has achieved still
falls regrettably short of our goal of an international community of nations.

This does not mean that the United Nations has failed. I have lived too long to
cherish many illusions about the essential high-mindedness of men when brought
into stark confrontation with the issue of control over their security, and
their property interests. Not even now, when so much is at hazard would many
nations willingly entrust their destinies to other hands.

Yet, this is the ultimatum presented to us: secure the conditions whereby men will
entrust their security to a larger entity, or risk annihilation; persuade men
that their salvation rests in the subordination of national and local interests
to the interests of humanity, or endanger man’s future. These are the
objectives, yesterday unobtainable, today essential, which we must labor to
achieve.

Until this is accomplished, mankind’s future remains hazardous and permanent peace a
matter for speculation. There is no single magic formula, no one simple step,
no words, whether written into the Organization’s Charter or into a treaty
between states, which can automatically guarantee to us what we seek. Peace is
a day-to-day problem, the product of a multitude of events and judgments. Peace
is not an “is”, it is a “becoming.” We cannot escape the dreadful possibility of catastrophe by miscalculation. But we can reach the right decisions on the myriad subordinate problems which each new day poses, and we can thereby make our contribution and perhaps the most that can be reasonably expected of us in 1963 to the preservation of peace. It is here that the United Nations has served us – not perfectly, but well. And in enhancing the possibilities that the Organization may serve us better, we serve and bring
closer our most cherished goals.

I would mention briefly today two particular issues which are of deep concern to
all men: disarmament and the establishment of true equality among men.
Disarmament has become the urgent imperative of our time. I do not say this
because I equate the absence of arms to peace, or because I believe that
bringing an end to the nuclear arms race automatically guarantees the peace, or
because the elimination of nuclear warheads from the arsenals of the world will
bring in its wake that change in attitude requisite to the peaceful settlement
of disputes between nations. Disarmament is vital today, quite simply, because
of the immense destructive capacity of which men dispose.

Ethiopia supports the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty as a step towards this goal,
even though only a partial step. Nations can still perfect weapons of mass
destruction by underground testing. There is no guarantee against the sudden,
unannounced resumption of testing in the atmosphere.

The real significance of the treaty is that it admits of a tacit stalemate between
the nations which negotiated it, a stalemate which recognizes the blunt,
unavoidable fact that none would emerge from the total destruction which would
be the lot of all in a nuclear war, a stalemate which affords us and the United
Nations a breathing space in which to act.

Here is our opportunity and our challenge. If the nuclear powers are prepared to
declare a truce, let us seize the moment to strengthen the institutions and
procedures which will serve as the means for the pacific settlement of disputes
among men. Conflicts between nations will continue to arise. The real issue is
whether they are to be resolved by force, or by resort to peaceful methods and
procedures, administered by impartial institutions. This very Organization
itself is the greatest such institution, and it is in a more powerful United
Nations that we seek, and it is here that we shall find, the assurance of a
peaceful future.

Were a real and effective disarmament achieved and the funds now spent in the arms
race devoted to the amelioration of man’s state; were we to concentrate only on
the peaceful uses of nuclear knowledge, how vastly and in how short a time
might we change the conditions of mankind. This should be our goal.

When we talk of the equality of man, we find, also, a challenge and an opportunity;
a challenge to breathe new life into the ideals enshrined in the Charter, an
opportunity to bring men closer to freedom and true equality. and thus, closer
to a love of peace.

The goal of the equality of man which we seek is the antithesis of the exploitation
of one people by another with which the pages of history and in particular
those written of the African and Asian continents, speak at such length.
Exploitation, thus viewed, has many faces. But whatever guise it assumes, this
evil is to be shunned where it does not exist and crushed where it does. It is
the sacred duty of this Organization to ensure that the dream of equality is
finally realized for all men to whom it is still denied, to guarantee that
exploitation is not reincarnated in other forms in places whence it has already
been banished.

As a free Africa has emerged during the past decade, a fresh attack has been
launched against exploitation, wherever it still exists. And in that
interaction so common to history, this in turn, has stimulated and encouraged
the remaining dependent peoples to renewed efforts to throw off the yoke which
has oppressed them and its claim as their birthright the twin ideals of liberty
and equality. This very struggle is a struggle to establish peace, and until
victory is assured, that brotherhood and understanding which nourish and give
life to peace can be but partial and incomplete.

In the United States of America, the administration of President Kennedy is
leading a vigorous attack to eradicate the remaining vestige of racial
discrimination from this country. We know that this conflict will be won and
that right will triumph. In this time of trial, these efforts should be
encouraged and assisted, and we should lend our sympathy and support to the
American Government today.

Last May, in Addis Ababa, I convened a meeting of Heads of African States and
Governments. In three days, the thirty-two nations represented at that
Conference demonstrated to the world that when the will and the determination
exist, nations and peoples of diverse backgrounds can and will work together.
in unity, to the achievement of common goals and the assurance of that equality
and brotherhood which we desire.

On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to
those who will learn, this further lesson: That until the philosophy which
holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently
discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and
second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of
no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human
rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that
day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of
international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but
never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our
brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have
been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and
inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and
good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes
of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African
continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we
know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.

The United Nations has done much, both directly and indirectly to speed the
disappearance of discrimination and oppression from the earth. Without the
opportunity to focus world opinion on Africa and Asia which this Organization
provides, the goal, for many, might still lie ahead, and the struggle would
have taken far longer. For this, we are truly grateful.

But more can be done. The basis of racial discrimination and colonialism has been
economic, and it is with economic weapons that these evils have been and can be
overcome. In pursuance of resolutions adopted at the Addis Ababa Summit
Conference, African States have undertaken certain measures in the economic
field which, if adopted by all member states of the United Nations, would soon
reduce intransigence to reason. I ask, today, for adherence to these measures
by every nation represented here which is truly devoted to the principles
enunciated in the Charter.

I do not believe that Portugal and South Africa are prepared to commit economic
or physical suicide if honorable and reasonable alternatives exist. I believe
that such alternatives can be found. But I also know that unless peaceful
solutions are devised, counsels of moderation and temperance will avail for
naught; and another blow will have been dealt to this Organization which will
hamper and weaken still further its usefulness in the struggle to ensure the
victory of peace and liberty over the forces of strife and oppression. Here,
then, is the opportunity presented to us. We must act while we can, while the
occasion exists to exert those legitimate pressures available to us, lest time
run out and resort be had to less happy means.

Does this Organization today possess the authority and the will to act? And if it
does not, are we prepared to clothe it with the power to create and enforce the
rule of law? Or is the Charter a mere collection of words, without content and
substance, because the essential spirit is lacking? The time in which to ponder
these questions is all too short. The pages of history are full of instances in
which the unwanted and the shunned nonetheless occurred because men waited to
act until too late. We can brook no such delay.

If we are to survive, this Organization must survive. To survive, it must be
strengthened. Its executive must be vested with great authority. The means for
the enforcement of its decisions must be fortified, and, if they do not exist,
they must be devised. Procedures must be established to protect the small and
the weak when threatened by the strong and the mighty. All nations which
fulfill the conditions of membership must be admitted and allowed to sit in
this assemblage.

Equality of representation must be assured in each of its organs. The possibilities
which exist in the United Nations to provide the medium whereby the hungry may
be fed, the naked clothed, the ignorant instructed, must be seized on and
exploited for the flower of peace is not sustained by poverty and want. To achieve
this requires courage and confidence. The courage, I believe, we possess. The
confidence must be created, and to create confidence we must act courageously.

The great nations of the world would do well to remember that in the modern age
even their own fates are not wholly in their hands. Peace demands the united
efforts of us all. Who can foresee what spark might ignite the fuse? It is not
only the small and the weak who must scrupulously observe their obligations to
the United Nations and to each other. Unless the smaller nations are accorded
their proper voice in the settlement of the world’s problems, unless the
equality which Africa and Asia have struggled to attain is reflected in
expanded membership in the institutions which make up the United Nations,
confidence will come just that much harder. Unless the rights of the least of
men are as assiduously protected as those of the greatest, the seeds of
confidence will fall on barren soil.

The stake of each one of us is identical – life or death. We all wish to live. We
all seek a world in which men are freed of the burdens of ignorance, poverty,
hunger and disease. And we shall all be hard-pressed to escape the deadly rain
of nuclear fall-out should catastrophe overtake us.

When I spoke at Geneva in 1936, there was no precedent for a head of state
addressing the League of Nations. I am neither the first, nor will I be the
last head of state to address the United Nations, but only I have addressed
both the League and this Organization in this capacity. The problems which
confront us today are, equally, unprecedented. They have no counterparts in
human experience. Men search the pages of history for solutions, for
precedents, but there are none. This, then, is the ultimate challenge. Where
are we to look for our survival, for the answers to the questions which have
never before been posed? We must look, first, to Almighty God, Who has raised
man above the animals and endowed him with intelligence and reason. We must put
our faith in Him, that He will not desert us or permit us to destroy humanity
which He created in His image. And we must look into ourselves, into the depth
of our souls. We must become something we have never been and for which our
education and experience and environment have ill-prepared us. We must become
bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in
outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice,
owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the
human community.

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