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Eritrea (Giorgio Habtit)

Volume 499: debated on Wednesday 30 April 1952

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that Azmatch George Habtit, for 40 years Chief in Akele Guzai Province of Eritrea, after suffering damages valued at 74,616 shillings by banditry, was on 6th July, 1951, without explanation or charge of wrongdoing, deported to forced residence at Keren in the Western Province; that he was dismissed from his Chieftainship as from 30th June, 1951, deprived of his stipend and pension, and that his land which has been recognised as his property under customary law, and by the Chika and peasants, has been passed to Ghereghier, a son of Ras Tesemma, leader of the anti-Ethiopian political party, thus leaving his family, including many minor children destitute; and whether he will give orders that this old official shall return to his home and property.

As regards the first part of the Question, careful investigations confirmed that Giorgio Habtit was responsible for instigating repeated acts of violence between 1946 and 1951 upon a neighbouring tribe which resulted in serious loss of life and property. The Chief Administrator therefore thought it necessary, in the interests of public safety and order, to restrict him to residence in the town of Keren in the Western Province under the powers conferred by Proclamation No. 104.

As regards the second part of the Question, he has not been dismissed from any chieftainship; but his enforced absence necessitated the transfer of certain powers and duties respecting the allocation of land in the Damas area to other persons. He has not been deprived of any land belonging personally to him but he no longer enjoys the use of certain other lands over which he had control under his former powers. Since Habtit is a person of property, there is no question of his family being left destitute.

As regards the third part of the Question, I am informed that the Chief Administrator now considers that the situation permits Habtit's release, which will take place on 15th May.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that will be welcomed by both the man and his family? It seems to me that if he did commit such a crime he should have been tried in the proper courts and given a proper opportunity of defending himself, which apparently was denied him. If so, why were not his rights safeguarded in that way?

I really do not think that this gentleman has had harsh treatment at all. There have been one or two rows between the tribes, in connection with which one tribe was attacked by the tribe with which the man concerned was connected, and 43 persons lost their lives in the ensuing fighting. On the whole I think it has not worked out too badly for the person mentioned in the hon. Member's Question.