August 3, 2021
New York, New York, United States
Re: Child Soldiers in Tigray
We are Ethiopians and European citizens of Ethiopian origin residing in twelve European countries, organized as members of the European branch of the global Defend Ethiopia Task Force (https://defendethiopia.com/about/).
We are writing this letter to highlight the deployment of child soldiers by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and to urge your condemnation and concrete action. The original evidence for this heinous crime was first reported by the New York Times on July 12, 2021, by Declan Walsh. The detailed report was accompanied by a series of images of clearly underage boys and girls carrying assault rifles provided by the TPLF. The images, which depict the story in all its horrifying detail, were taken by the photojournalist Finbarr O’Reilly, who was in Ethiopia on assignment for the New York Times. Later, videos of children of the same age category being provided a weapons training became widely available on social media platforms and reported in regional press outlets.
As Mr O’Reilly stated on his personal blog, “conscripting or enlisting children into armed forces or groups constitutes a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflict”, under the Statute of the International Criminal Court and many other instruments of international law.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) defines the recruitment and use of children by armed forces or groups in conflict as a violation of child rights as well as international law. It forbids the recruitment of children under any circumstances, by any group. The Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions (1977, Art. 77.2), the convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) all recognize the use of underage children in armed hostilities, whether this is by state or non-state armed forces, as a war crime.
The government of Ethiopia announced a unilateral ceasefire at the end of June 2021 and withdrew its armed forces from the Tigray region for several laudable purposes. However, the TPLF went on to take the exact opposite measures – mass mobilization and recruitment of thousands of fighters including very young boys and girls. This organization has no plans to engage in activities that espouse peace and stability. Evidently, these young recruits were unleashed on several fronts into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.
The images of armed underage soldiers on the battlefield in this time and age were tragic and astounding. Equally so is the ensuing utter silence of the international community and all the organizations tasked with safeguarding the wellbeing of children around the world. The Ethiopian people are perplexed and saddened by the complete indifference to the deployment of large numbers of children as active-duty soldiers by TPLF. We consider it as utter dereliction of duty on part of UNICEF and all similar organizations to remain silent in the face of a complete disregard for the welfare of children and violation of international law. It is because we trust that your voice is essential to save them as many of them are dying currently.
Therefore, we call upon the global community, especially those organizations concerned with child welfare, to condemn in the strongest terms and investigate the conscription of children into the TPLF armed group and their direct deployment in conflict zones, engaging government forces.
The Defend Ethiopia Task Force in Europe Steering Group organized in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom
EU Offices (Commission, EEAS, Parliament)
Save the Children