Italy and the Vatican Must Repent Their Crimes against Ethiopia for the Sake of All Mankind in the Struggle against Genocide and Terror

By Dr. Jonathan Levy, Legal Advisor to GAJEC (The Global Alliance for Justice, the Ethiopian Cause) & to the ebenezer akwanga human rights and humanitarian institute (eahrhi).

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – GEORGE SANTAYANA (1863-1952)

Italy and the Vatican have condemned the recent atrocities by the Muslim terror organization known by the names of The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or as Daesh or simply Islamic State (IS). Headline grabbing, gut wrenching, stories of Islamic State (IS) atrocities accompanied by slickly produced videos have shocked the conscience of the world. In February of 2015 Pope Francis strongly condemned the sickening video portraying the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian on a Libyan beach by ISIL. The Pope called the victims “martyrs” whose blood “is a testimony which cries out to be heard.” “Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me,’ ” the saddened pontiff said. “They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians.”

On April 15, 2015, 30 Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians were executed by ISIL in Libya. 15 were shot and 15 beheaded. They were killed because they were identified as Christian members of the Ethiopian Church. To his credit, Pope Francis also strongly condemned these killings of Christian martyrs and conveyed his sincere condolences: “I reach out to you in heartfelt spiritual solidarity to assure you of my closeness in prayer at the continuing martyrdom being so cruelly inflicted on Christians in Africa, the Middle East and some parts of Asia,” the pope said in his message released by the Vatican.”

Italy has also been a front-line country in the struggle against ISIL. The Italian Navy has rescued and continues to save thousands of refugees from ISIL terror from Libya and fleeing ISIL in Syria and Iraq including Eritrean Christians and Ethiopians. Unfortunately, even though Italy was the former colonial power in Libya, besides joint statements condemning ISIL Italy has been relatively silent compared to the Vatican and its moral authority.

ISIL has also used poison gas, mass executions by barbaric means, and destruction and looting of cultural heritage in an attempt to terrorize the populations under its control. The world has been shocked at the sophistication and perverse cruelty demonstrated by the cultists. Yet the Islamic State terror mechanism is minor compared to the elephant in the room. Between 1935-1941 Mussolini’s Italy with the blessing of the Vatican attempted to convert Ethiopia to an imperial colony and Roman Catholicism by fire, rifle, sword, and poison gas. A million Ethiopian men, women, and children were killed. Monasteries and Ethiopian Orthodox churches were looted, monks and priests tortured and killed, cultural property carted off by the ship load to Italy to adorn private collections and museums. Ancient obelisks were uprooted and carted away. Is this any worse than the crimes of ISIL at Palmyra? In fact, it was far worse by many times and was faced alone by the Ethiopian people who were abandoned to struggle on their own by the League of Nations and the great powers.

The Pope is to be congratulated for his courageous stance against ISIL, Italy less so. However neither Italy nor the Vatican has truly made amends to the Ethiopian people for their crimes and genocide. The government of Italy paid some symbolic compensation and returned looted obelisks under pressure but little more and the Vatican has never apologized for its role blessing the Italian conquest. Looted cultural properties such as precious manuscripts are still present in the Vatican Library. Therefore, to condemn ISIL on the one hand but to shirk from one’s duty to make amends to the Ethiopian people on the other, undermines the noble gestures of the Pope and wrongly reinforces the view that the Italian government cares only for its own.

From a legal point of view, Italy and the Vatican have successfully skirted justice. GAJEC has made many efforts publicly and behind the scenes to obtain an apology and restitution for the victims of genocide and will continue to do so. But in the annals of history, the moral authority of Italy and the Vatican can only be increased by first addressing the Ethiopian genocide through a tangible demonstration of remorse for their crimes. We say to the Pope and the Italian government that they must cleanse the taint of hypocrisy from their actions so that their collective efforts against the ISIL menace are even more effective.

All Africa benefits when a former colonial overlord acknowledges their past crimes against Africans and makes amends. Ethiopia is but one example of colonial genocide for which justice is required.

(Originally presented at the International Conference on Justice for Ethiopia, Howard University, September 26, 2015 and updated June 7, 2016 for the eahrhi. This article first appeared on the website of the Global Alliance for Justice – The Ethiopian Cause (GAJEC) under the patient and persistent leadership of Ato Kidane Alemayehu. GAJEC stands for the proposition that as long as one survivor of the Italian occupation still lives it is not too late for Italy and the Vatican to make amends. GAJEC may be contacted at: