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We write in advance of the 98th pre-session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and its review of Ethiopia. This submission focuses on children’s rights violations in the context of armed conflict and during protests, the rights to education and health, and children’s rights and the environment.

Children’s Rights Violations in the Context of Armed Conflict (articles 6, 19, 22, 24, 28, 34, 38, and 39)

From its onset, in November 2020, the two-year armed conflict in northern Ethiopia between the Ethiopian federal government and allied forces, including Eritrean forces, against Tigrayan fighters, resulted in serious violations of international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, and had a devastating impact on children.[1] Many children were killed or injured, arbitrarily detained, forced to flee to neighboring Sudan, or internally displaced. The Ethiopian government’s almost two-year-long effective siege on the Tigray region added to the suffering of the civilian population there.[2] By June 2021, an estimated 350,000 children in Tigray faced extreme levels of hunger.[3]

In its final report to the UN General Assembly, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) detailed a concerning human rights landscape that persisted despite a November 2022 ceasefire agreement between the federal government and Tigrayan forces.[4]

Children have continued to be impacted in conflict-affected areas, including in the context of a new conflict in the Amhara region between government forces and Fano militia forces, and in the Tigray and Oromia regions.

In the Amhara region, the national Ethiopian Human Rights commission, a state-affiliated body, reported that on October 10, 2023, 12 civilians, including students under the age of 18, were killed by government forces in Adet during house-to-house searches.[5] A week later, a 19-month-old was among the victims of an apparent aerial strike in the town of Berehet Woreda.[6]

In the context of a conflict in Oromia, which started in 2019, Human Rights Watch reported on the summary execution by government security forces of a 17-year-old boy in broad daylight in 2021.[7] In June 2022, heavily armed assailants targeted villages in Tole ward in western Oromia, and Sene ward in the Benishangul Gumuz region, killing hundreds of Amhara civilians including children.[8] In one incident, 29 people were rounded up and executed in the compound of a mosque in Chekorsa village. One man said he found the bodies of his pregnant wife and their three young children in the mosque compound. Federal government forces failed to intervene to protect civilians.

Protection of education from attack

Attacks on schools increased in 2020 and 2021 in Ethiopia, during the conflict in northern Ethiopia, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). GCPEA also identified approximately 70 incidents of military use of schools and universities.[9]

For example, during the conflict in northern Ethiopia between November 2020 and May 2021, a quarter of all schools in the Tigray region were damaged.[10] In November 2020, Ethiopian and Eritrean forces’ heavy shelling of Tigrayan towns struck schools or near school compounds in Humera, Shire, and Mekelle in Tigray region.[11] On January 7, 2022, a government airstrike hit a school compound hosting thousands of displaced Tigrayans in northwestern Tigray. The drone dropped three bombs on the compound in the town of Dedebit, killing and maiming displaced Tigrayans, mainly children, older people, and women.[12]

Ethiopia’s 2004 criminal code states that “[w]hoever, in time of war, armed conflict, or occupation, organizes, orders or engages in, against the civilian population and in violation of the rules of public international law and of international humanitarian conventions:… (i) the confiscation, destruction, removal, rendering useless or appropriation of property such as … schools;… is punishable with rigorous imprisonment from five years to twenty-five years, or, in more serious cases, with life imprisonment or death.”[13] Nonetheless, during the conflict in Tigray, the federal government forces used the historic Atse Yohannes preparatory school in the regional capital, Mekelle, as barracks after taking control of the city in late November 2020, and continued to use the school through mid-April 2021.[14]

Save the Children reported in April 2023 that 3.5 million children remained out of school in northern Ethiopia —or 1 in every 16 children—due to conflict.[15] Forced displacement due to conflict coupled with the worst drought in over four decades in the Somali region has further exacerbated barriers to accessing education.[16]

The Safe Schools Declaration[17] is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[18] As of January 2024, 119 states had endorsed the declaration, including the majority of Ethiopia’s fellow members of the African Union. Ethiopia has not endorsed the declaration.[19]

Sexual violence

Ethiopian government forces as well as other warring parties, including Tigrayan forces, have subjected girls and women to widespread sexual violence.

Ethiopian federal and regional government forces and Eritrean forces in particular subjected Tigrayan girls and women to widespread forms of sexual violence throughout the conflict. The ICHREE found ongoing multiple-perpetrator-rapes by Eritrean and Amhara forces, and situations of sexualized enslavement, even after the signing of the cessations of hostilities agreement in November 2022. In September 2023, the ICHREE reported that “more than 100 girls aged under 18 years were raped or otherwise subjected to brutal forms of sexual violence in Tigray during the same period.”[20]

In 2021, Human Rights Watch found that a significant number of the survivors who reported sexual violence to service providers in Tigray were girls. Of 166 rape survivors admitted to a safehouse between April and August 2021, 40 were under 18.[21] Between November 2020 and July 2023, the ICHREE estimated that over 10,000 survivors, primarily girls and women, sought out care.[22]

A joint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that Amhara regional security forces and Fano militia, with the acquiescence and possible complicity of federal government forces, subjected Tigrayans in Western Tigray Zone to a campaign of ethnic cleansing since November 2020.[23] As part of the campaign, security forces subjected girls and women to widespread sexual violence, including multiple-perpetrator rape, accompanied by verbal and physical abuse, abduction, and sexual slavery. Some women were raped in front of their children.

Human Rights Watch research into attacks on Eritrean refugees by Eritrean government forces and Tigrayan militia fighters between November 2020 and January 2021 found that Tigrayan militias subjected some Eritrean women, and at least one 17-year-old, to rape.[24] The ICHREE also found that Tigray-aligned fighters during their takeover of parts of the Amhara region between July and December 2021 subjected women and girls as young as 11 to multi-perpetrator-rape and other forms of sexual violence.[25]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Ethiopia:

  • What steps has Ethiopia taken to impartially investigate security force abuses against children and hold those responsible to account?
  • Does Ethiopia intend to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration? If not, why not?
  • Do any Ethiopian laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?
  • What steps are being taken to address the systemic factors contributing to sexual violence during conflict, including impunity for perpetrators, and the widespread establishment of military command posts throughout the country?
  • What steps is the government taking to ensure that survivors of sexual violence have access to comprehensive, child-responsive support services, including medical care, emergency contraception, safe comprehensive abortion care, psychosocial support, and legal assistance, especially in areas affected by conflict?

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to call on the government of Ethiopia to:

  • Uphold international humanitarian law prohibitions against attacks on children, including ceasing indiscriminate attacks, investigating alleged laws-of-war violations, and refraining from using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.
  • Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration; incorporate the declaration’s standards in domestic policy, military operational frameworks, and legislation; and share any good practices with other African Union countries.
  • Thoroughly and impartially investigate attacks on students and schools by state and non-state armed groups and ensure those responsible for abuses are held to account in line with international standards.
  • Direct the armed forces to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence and ensure that anyone committing sexual violence is appropriately held to account.
  • Cooperate with international investigations on attacks against children, including by:
    • Facilitating access to conflict-affected areas to independent monitors;
    • Cooperating and working with the special representative of the UN secretary-general on children in armed conflict and signing an agreement with her office;
    • Inviting the special-representative on conflict-related sexual violence and the AU special envoy on women, peace, and security to conduct country visits to Ethiopia.
  • Ensure the availability, accessibility, and quality of mental health and psychosocial support services without discrimination, including community-level trainings on psychological first aid and provision of specialized services and counseling for sexual violence survivors and their families.

Rights Abuses During Protests, including in 2015-2016 and in 2019 (articles 6, 15, and 37)

State security forces used excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protests that began in Oromia in late 2015 and spread to other areas of the country in 2016.

Human Rights Watch’s research found that the police and soldiers fired indiscriminately into crowds, using live ammunition, summarily killing people, including primary and secondary school students under the age of 18. [26] They also arbitrarily arrested students under the age of 18, teachers, and people who provided assistance or shelter to fleeing students.[27]

In many locations, children were detained with adults. Six parents told Human Rights Watch that they had asked at the local security office or police station and security officials denied their children were in custody. In each of these cases, witnesses had informed the parents that their children had been arrested at or after the protests.

In October 2019, protests and violence broke out in Addis Ababa and in parts of Oromia following alleged security threats against prominent Oromo activist Jawar Mohamed.[28] Human Rights Watch found that at least 37 people were wounded, including a 13-year-old, in Ambo in the West Shewa zone.[29] In Dodola, witnesses said mobs injured at least 60, including children.[30]

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to call on the government of Ethiopia to:

  • Properly investigate publicly reported security force abuses against children and hold those responsible to account.
  • Publicly denounce extrajudicial killings and other serious abuses by Ethiopian security forces and undertake a system-wide, structural reform of the security sector at both the regional and federal levels.
  • Ensure children are not detained with unrelated adults, and that detention is used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period of time.

Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Marriage as Barriers to Realizing the Right to Education (articles 2, 17, 24, and 28)

The adolescent birth rate in Ethiopia is 73 per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19.[31] This is almost twice the world rate of 41 per 1,000.[32] In 2016, 40 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys were married before age 18, and 14 percent were married before they turned 15.[33] In 2019, the government launched a five-year national roadmap to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.[34]

The revised Family Code sets 18 years as the minimum legal age of marriage. However, the law still allows the minister of justice to make exceptions for children who are 16 years old.[35]

In Ethiopia, no law or policy protects or impedes girls’ education during pregnancy.[36] Pregnant and parenting students are, in principle, able to continue their studies. But it is rare for a pregnant or married student to return to formal education due to social norms, childcare obligations, and economic challenges. Unmarried pregnant girls face serious stigma from their peers at school and their community. Education experts said that married students have continued to go to school in some cases, but their return depends on the will of their husband and whether they can manage the direct and indirect costs of continuing schooling.[37]

Instead, some students in Ethiopia are eligible for indirect education services, such as Integrated Functional Adult Literacy programs limited to foundational skills and vocational training that are generally available for “out of school” children. However, such programs are not sufficient to fulfill Ethiopia’s obligations under human rights law to provide free and compulsory primary education and secondary education for all children: they do not provide equivalency in formal education, and students do not receive accreditation or certificates to enable them to progress on to further levels of education.

Ethiopia provides free primary and secondary education. Pre-primary education is mostly provided for a fee through a network of community and non-governmental actors.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Ethiopia:

  • Has the government maintained a policy of free primary and secondary education despite significant budgetary challenges in recent years?
  • What is the government’s policy and practice regarding the right to education of married, pregnant, and parenting girls?
  • What steps is the government taking to ensure that married, pregnant, and parenting girls who are at risk of dropping out of education are socially and financially supported to stay in school?
  • What special accommodations are provided for students who are parents at school, such as time for breast-feeding, flexibility when babies are ill, childcare, or flexibility in class schedules and exams?
  • What programs are in place to develop and/or expand access to nurseries or early childhood centers close to primary and secondary schools, especially in remote areas?
  • How is the government working to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the practice of child marriage? Please provide recent figures on the rates of child marriage, disaggregated by age, gender, and geographic location.
  • What is the status of the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) Curriculum?
  • What measures has the government taken to ensure access to adolescent responsive sexual and reproductive health services including available, accessible, acceptable, and quality contraception, comprehensive abortion care, maternal health care, and reproductive health services?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of Ethiopia to:

  • Address social, financial, and systemic barriers that inhibit adolescent girls or women who are pregnant or are parents from continuing their education, including by ensuring that facilities, materials, and services necessary for their enjoyment of the right to education are fully available and accessible.
  • Adopt a positive continuation policy that outlines schools’ obligations to safeguard the right to education for married, pregnant, and parenting children, and monitor implementation. Ensure adolescent girls are adequately and meaningfully consulted.
  • Remove any exceptions to the minimum legal age of marriage and continue to combat the practice of child marriage through national strategies, in collaboration with young people, relevant civil society groups, and ministries.
  • Guarantee access to sexual and reproductive health rights, including comprehensive sexuality education at school and in the community.
  • Legislate at least one year of free pre-primary education for all children.

Children’s Rights and the Environment (articles 6, 23, 24, 26, and 27)

A company operating the Lega Dembi gold mine, Midroc Investment Group, and the Swiss refinery that sourced its gold until 2018, Argor-Heraeus, took no action over media reports about pollution from the mine for years. An assessment carried out in 2018 at the Ethiopian government’s request and shared with Human Rights Watch found that local residents including children had experienced serious health effects. Midroc resumed operations, apparently with a license from the government, but without publicly demonstrating its steps to reduce pollution, even though the government had said it was suspending its license until pollution issues were resolved.[38]

Between 2012 and 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 26 people living in the vicinity of the mine site, former Midroc employees, and former local and regional government officials. In 2021 and 2022, Human Rights Watch interviewed 10 former local government officials and environmental and health experts. Residents living near the mine have for years complained of ill-health and disabilities, particularly in newborn children. Environmental testing by Addis Ababa University in 2018 found high levels of arsenic in water samples taken downstream from the mine area, and high levels of nickel, chromium, and arsenic in soil samples outside the mine.[39]

In its reply to the list of issues addressed to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2021, the government said it would not permit Midroc to resume the mine’s operations until the issues were “resolved” and the toxic waste “no longer poses a threat.”[40] However, Human Rights Watch research found that the mine recommenced operations around March 2021 without demonstrating publicly that sufficient steps had been taken to ensure the chemicals no longer pose a threat.[41]

At a community meeting in March 2021, local government officials announced that compensation would be paid to people whose health had been affected but did not provide information about the criteria for compensation. Officials also mentioned remediation but did not provide details. Several community members said the authorities paid compensation to some, but not all, affected people. According to a letter sent by Midroc in June 2023 in response to Human Rights Watch’s requests for information, 827 people have received funds for “livelihood restoration” and medical purposes. Human Rights Watch has not been able to independently determine the number of people compensated or the criteria for compensation.

An Ethiopian government report released in July 2021 stated that Oromia regional authorities and Midroc signed a memorandum of understanding with an action plan for the “resolution of social, health, and environmental impacts.”[42] The steps included voluntary relocation of affected community members, payment of compensation, support to the local administration, and the creation of a “mechanism” to require transparency and accountability from the mining company. The report does not mention environmental remediation measures. The memorandum of understanding has not been made public, and Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain a copy.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the Ethiopian government:

  • What steps is the government taking to monitor child health and environmental impacts from Lega Dembi mine over time?
  • Which country or countries did the gold from Lega Dembi get exported to since 2021?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the Ethiopian government to:

  • Conduct a comprehensive, inclusive, and transparent process of remediation at and around Lega Dembi mine, guided by international environmental and health experts.
  • Immediately publish the memorandum of understanding between Oromia regional authorities and Midroc.
  • Require Midroc to set up a tailings management system designed in accordance with professional standards, to ensure harmful chemicals in water and soil do not exceed international standards designed to protect human health, and to publicly report about their efforts within three months. If Midroc does not do so, suspend Midroc’s Lega Dembi mining license.
  • Together with international environmental and health experts, put in place a robust monitoring program, subject to independent audits, that will monitor and publish contaminant levels over time and their particular effect on children’s health, taking corrective action before contaminant levels exceed thresholds.
  • Provide an effective remedy for the harm done, including full and effective reparations proportionate to the harm suffered, and ensure that affected children have access to justice, health care, and social support.

[1] See Human Rights Watch, “We Will Erase You from This Land”: Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2022),; “Ethiopia: Eritrean Refugees Targeted in Tigray,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 16, 2021,; and United Nations Human Rights Council, “Report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia,” U.N. Doc. A/HRC/54/55, September 14, 2023, (accessed February 26, 2024).

[2] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC)/Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Joint Investigation into Alleged Violations of International Human Rights, Humanitarian and Refugee Law Committed by all Parties to the Conflict in the Tigray Region of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,” November 3, 2021, (accessed February 13, 2024).

[3] See Kenneth Roth (Human Rights Watch), “Ethiopia’s Invisible Ethnic Cleansing,” Op-ed, Foreign Affairs, June 16, 2022,; Maryanne Buechner, “UN Report: 350,000 Ethiopians Are Living in Famine Conditions,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), June 11, 2021,,millions%20of%20children%20and%20families (accessed February 22,2024); and Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, “Ethiopia: IPC Acute Food Insecurity Analysis May-September 2021,” June 2021, (accessed February 22, 2024).

[4] “International community must ensure accountability and protection for civilians caught in Ethiopia conflict, UN commission says final report,” UN OHCHR press release, October 13, 2023, (accessed February 13, 2024).

[5] Dawit Endeshaw, “Conflict in Ethiopia's Amhara kills dozens, rights body says,” Reuters, October 30, 2023, (accessed February 13, 2024); “Amhara region: The context of the armed conflict that continued for months and its negative human rights implications,” Ethiopia Human Rights Commission press release, October 30,2023, (accessed February 22, 2024).

[6] Dawit Endeshaw, “Conflict in Ethiopia's Amhara kills dozens, rights body says.”

[7] “Ethiopia: Boy Publicly Executed in Oromia,” Human Rights Watch press release, June 10, 2021,

[8] “Ethiopia: Civilians in Western Oromia Left Unprotected,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 31, 2022,

[9] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), Education Under Attack 2022, (accessed February 8, 2024), pp. 126-129.

[10] See UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “Ethiopia: Situation Overview” (webpage), last updated March 30, 2021, (accessed February 26, 2024); and “Ethiopia: Tigray Schools Occupied, Looted,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 28, 2021,

[11] “Ethiopia: Unlawful Shelling of Tigray Urban Areas,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 11, 2021,

[12] Human Rights Watch obtained a list compiled by the displaced community with the names of 53 people killed immediately, including fifteen children, the youngest a year old. “Ethiopia: Airstrike on Camp for Displaced Likely War Crime,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 24, 2022,

[13] Criminal Code of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, proclamation 414/2004, 2004, art. 270.

[14] “Ethiopia: Tigray Schools Occupied, Looted,” Human Rights Watch news release.

[15] “More than 2.3 Million Children out of School in Northern Ethiopia Despite Peace Agreement,” Save the Children news release, April 12, 2023, (accessed February 26, 2024).

[16] “Increasing Number of Children Pushed Out of Education in Ethiopia Due to Severe Drought, Conflict and Forced Displacement,” Education Cannot Wait news release, December 7, 2022, (accessed February 26, 2024).

[17] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, (accessed May 12, 2023).

[18] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, (accessed May 12, 2023).

[19] GCPEA, “Safe Schools Declaration Endorsements” (webpage), 2023, (accessed February 8, 2024).

[20] UN Human Rights Council, “Report of the International Commission of Human Rights experts on Ethiopia,” para. 51.

[21] Human Rights Watch, “I Always Remember That Day”: Access to Services for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2021),

[22] Report of the International Commission of Human Rights experts on Ethiopia,” para. 52.

[23] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “We Will Erase You from This Land”: Crimes against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2022),

[24] “Ethiopia: Eritrean Refugees Targeted in Tigray,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 16, 2021,

[25] UN Human Rights Council, “Report of the International Commission of Human Rights experts on Ethiopia,” para.35.

[26] Human Rights Watch, “Such a Brutal Crackdown”: Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protests (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2016),

[27] Ibid.

[28] “Ethiopia: Justice needed for deadly October violence,” Human Rights Watch press release, April 1, 2020,

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “World Population Dashboard” (webpage), 2023, (accessed February 8, 2024).

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey 2016, as cited in Girls Not Brides, “Child Marriage Atlas – Ethiopia” (webpage) [n.d.] (accessed February 14, 2024).

[34] Victor Chinyama, “Ethiopia launches a five-year, US$94 million plan to end child marriage and FGM,” UNICEF Ethiopia, August 15, 2019, (accessed February 9, 2024).

[35] Ethiopia: Proclamation No. 213/2000 of 2000, The Revised Family Code, July 4, 2000, art. 7(1) and (2).

[36] See “Across Africa, Many Young Mothers Face Education Barriers,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 30, 2022,; and “A Brighter Future: Empowering Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothers to Stay in School,” Human Rights Watch index, August 2022,

[37] See Human Rights Watch, “A Brighter Future: Empowering Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothers to Stay in School.”

[38] “Ethiopia: Companies Long Ignored Gold Mine Pollution,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 26, 2023,

[39] Ibid.

[40] UN Human Rights Committee, Replies of Ethiopia to the list of issues in relation to its second periodic report, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/ETH/RQ/2, November 3, 2021, para. 150.

[41] “Ethiopia: Companies Long Ignored Gold Mine Pollution,” Human Rights Watch news release.

[42] UN Human Rights Committee, Replies of Ethiopia to the list of issues in relation to its second periodic report, paras. 152-153.

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