Dear Special Representative,
I chair the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC). On behalf of this organization and the Ethiopian diaspora it represents, I wanted to bring the recent findings by Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald, Director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and an investigation by Reuters to your attention.
Both have discovered and verified evidence that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been forcing people to take up arms in the violent insurgency created by the group’s leaders. The two investigations independently received testimony that under threats of family imprisonment, innocent Tigrayans have been coerced into joining the TPLF’s forces. Most shockingly, Reuters and Professor Fitz-Gerald spoke to children who had been forced to become soldiers by the TPLF. This revelation was also previously reported on by photojournalist Finbarr O’Reilly of the New York Times in July 2021.
With the concerning suggestions, including from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission that there may soon be a major resumption of hostilities, we believe it is vital to act now to ensure more children are not forced into war. As the Reuters investigation discovered, “Tigrayans, who volunteered in droves earlier in the war, are becoming increasingly reluctant to fight”. It is therefore likely that any new attempt by the TPLF to launch an offensive into the Amhara and Afar regions will rely on civilians forced into combat roles. Based on the two investigations, it is sadly entirely possible this will once again include child soldiers.
Beyond the issue of child soldiers, Professor Fitz-Gerald’s research also found “that no matter how much aid flowed into Tigray, priority was always given to the TPLF leaders, certain TPLF linked businessmen (given some staples, like oil, to sell in their shops) and fighters. In fact, aid organizations apparently had no voice in how their own aid was distributed—it was handed over to TPLF leaders”. The research discovered that TPLF leaders are also prioritizing giving aid to families who have provided fighters. The impact this has on under-nourished children in Tigray cannot be overstated.
As the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, you have a unique ability to convene international governments and others to hold the TPLF to account for their past use of child soldiers and bad actor practices with aid, and to ensure that every effort is made to stop these despicable acts from happening again. The world cannot stand by and allow a generation of children to become scarred by conflict in Ethiopia. Despite repeated efforts by the Ethiopian Government to foster a peaceful solution to the conflict, including unilateral ceasefires and the release of detained TPLF leaders, the TPLF has not matched this commitment to peace and reconciliation. Indeed, as Le Monde has reported TPLF forces continue to occupy parts of the Afar region and have “devastated” the area.
I look forward to your response and hope that action by you and the UN can protect the children of Ethiopia from the TPLF and keep them safe from being forced into conflict or denied life-saving aid.
Mesfin Tegenu, Chairman of the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC)
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