Recently, I have read articles written in Asmarino.com that attempted to address the existence of alleged “child soldier” in the Eritrean struggle during liberation war against Ethiopia. Yosief Gherberhiwet (YG), What the Book of Martyrs Doesn’t Say: Part I and Part II. There was also Zekre Libona (ZL) with his The Eritrean Revolution and Its Child Soldiers where ZL talks about….
- Alleged “child soldier” in Eritrean Ghedli by dressing it, or better yet, cloning it in a Sierra Leon, Uganda, and the Republic of Congo’s context.
- Use Dogs of War mercenaries in the case of Biafra, Nigeria, and soldier for hire in Ayanya, south Sudan struggle to create a simile where there is none in Eritrean Ghedli.
- Describing an AK47 (Kalashnikov) in terms of “toy like gun” that would attract eight and nine years old boys who could embrace it as such… a toy! Giving a distinct mental picture of the war in the diamond world.
- Worst of all… makes no Legal, Moral, or Cultural arguments in advancing the case except repeating of the buzz word child soldier where it fits, and omitting it where it causes a hole in his missing argument…Ethiopia.
- And much more…
In none of these discussions is there any context. Nothing about the big fish, the fish that got away: Ethiopia’s Mengistu Hailemariam. How is it one could talk about fishing without mentioning the word fish? And similarly talk about Eritrean Ghedli, without mentioning its formidable adversary – Ethiopia and its brutality – is hard to fathom. In the idiom of an electronic wizardry… I guess one can!
Ethiopia is the cause of Ghedli. Without Ethiopia there wouldn’t be Ghedli as we knew it.
And in those days there was a whole lot of Ethiopia, more than any one could bear, with the mightiest forces to be reckoned with in sub Saharan Africa. Instead, ZL brings parallel stories that hardly connect the dots with what went on in the lives of Eritreans and civilian Ethiopians. For the purposes of this discussion I will try to demonstrate the behavior of Ethiopia and its impact on the population as well as its impact on Ghedli, thereby, making the issue of child soldier in Eritrean context as, almost, null and void, merely a blip in the radar screen.
In its Counter-Insurgency Strategy, Dergue’s dealings with Ogaden in the south, EPRP in the center, and Eritrea & Tigray in the north, were as follows…
The use of overkill force by the Dergue on the civilian Ethiopians and Eritreans alike was all too familiar for the population; using military forces from the ground, air force from the skies is recorded in detail into history books. Not only assaulting the civilians in the rural areas but also dictating of where they must relocate if any hint of insurgency activities was deemed to exist. Additionally, the Dergue was notoriously known for blockades, systematic or otherwise, of the food related items, be it commercial or any relief efforts. Again if any insurgent activities were rumored to exist; the main roads were not only blocked but were bombed mercilessly. And, Dergue’s evil strategies started, geographically speaking, from south, to the center, and to the north will be highlighted respectively.
Counter-Insurgency Strategy in Action…
Somalia/Ogaden war in the south
By 1981, according to an Africa Watch Report, titled Evil Days “…the number of war affected people who had been relocated in villages amounted to 880,000 in Bale alone, including 750,000 in northern part of the province where the Somali army never reached.” 1.3 million Refugees crossed the international border into Somalia, according to the Somali government. Equally horrifying was the untold death toll of the population, livestocks, and earth-scorching destruction on property that must have added a whole lot of stars of the evil kind on Mengistu’s shoulders.
With the win in the south under his belt, showing his brutality to the rest of his world, Mengistu moved to Addis to deal with his political nemesis, Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRP).
By 1976 Dergue’s counter insurgency campaign of terror, aptly dubbed Red Terror, began to intensify in the cities, mainly in the Capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. This campaign was intended toward the youth, the students, and the educated elite, who were the crème of the crop and believed to be sympathizers of the EPRP. By early 1977, Lt-Col Atnafu Abate, made a horrifying promise that for every one revolutionary killed there would be one thousand counter actions, a promise to which he delivered without hesitation. For instance, any paraphernalia that would have remote implications and was considered of help to EPRP was met with execution; possession of a typewriter was a fair game for annihilation. There is no official number that tell of people killed in this terror, but is estimated to be well above 10,000 in Addis alone, and to top it off, the Kebeles required families to reimburse the administration for the price of bullets used to kill their loved ones when they reclaimed the bodies for proper burial. On May 17, the Secretary General of Swedish Save the Children Fund stated that, “one thousand children have been massacred in Addis Ababa and their bodies, lying in the streets, were ravaged by roving hyenas.” He estimated that 100-150 young people —some as young as 12—were being killed every night. This grim picture that the Dergue was painting was also meant to send a clear message for what lays-in-wait to the people of Tigray & Eritrea once the revolution marched forth to the north.
Horror marching north… Eritrea & Tigray
According to the human rights watch group based in NewYork, NY, “Cold war rivalries helped the Dergue to flourish and tighten its hold on power. It became the main client of the Soviet block in Africa, and received massive shipments of arms to help it counter serious challenges from several armed insurgencies by ethnic and regional liberation movements seeking to break away from centuries of centralized hegemony by Ethiopia’s ruling elite. The counter-insurgency campaigns unleashed by the Dergue were characterized by widespread violations of international humanitarian law. Civilians were deliberately targeted and fell victims by the hundreds of thousands as a result of the indiscriminate violence against them.”
The above quote only illustrates the extent to which Ethiopia was on the receiving end of limitless armaments from the then Soviet Union, Cuba, and the Eastern Block countries. Beyond that, however, it was common knowledge to the majority of Eritreans that starting from the monarch onto the Dergue, the lives of Eritreans were of no value other than the access to the sea.
The atrocities documented below are just a tip of an iceberg meant to show the reader the extent to which Eritreans were subjected to the inhumane treatments received under the hands of the Dergue; which by far is more relevant than the Biafras, the Sierra Leon, etc. that ZL attempted to skirt the issue with.
Legacy of Haile Selassie’s horror, intensified by the arrival of Dergue in 1970s in Eritrea
- 32 civilians were shot dead when the army burned Arafali village. 88 people were executed when the people of Atshoma refused army order to relocate in a protected village this was in March of 1970.
- In November, 112 people were killed in a mosque at Basadare (Beskedira). The people were collected in the mosque by soldiers who said they would be safe there from a planned air strike; the soldiers then opened fire.
- On 1st December 1970 625 people were killed in the village of Ona..
- On 27 January 1971 about 60 civilians, most of them elderly people, were killed by soldiers in a mosque in the village of Elabored
- On10th of July 1974 over 170 civilians were massacred in Om Hager.
- On January 31, 1975, when the Eritrean fronts launched an attack on Asmara city. Over the following four days, government soldiers went on the rampage through the city. Civilians were dragged from their houses and executed. According to the Human Right Watch up to 3,000 people were killed in the city
- In March 1975, 100 patients in Asmara hospital were killed, their bodies being taken out in trucks to be buried.
- On 9 March 1975 over 200 civilians in Agordat were killed by the Ethiopian soldiers
- On 13 March 1975 the Ethiopian soldiers rounded up the villagers of Woki on a piece of waste ground and shot 37 dead
- On 14 March, 1975 many women, children and old men were bayoneted and pregnant women were slit open / The Ethiopians then killed all the livestock and set fire to the house
- On 17 April 1975, 235 civilians in Hirgigo were killed by the Ethiopian army
- In summer 1975, 110 people in the village of Wokiduba were herded into an orthodox church and massacred.
- In 1975-1976 many youth were killed by steel wires and knifing down in the streets of the capital of Asmara
- Fifteen Eritrean prisoners were executed on 10 January 1986 after they had been held for several years.(Dines, 1988:151)
- The massacre of 39 Nara youth at Mogoraib on 19 October 1985.
- In May 1988 400 people, mostly women and children, were crushed to death by tanks in the village of She’eb.
- Atrocities were also reported between April and May in several parts of the provinces of Hamasien, Senhit, Akele Guzai and Serae.
Source (Dines 1988; Human Rights Watch 1991)
There are hundreds if not thousands of un-reported crimes that resulted in so many deaths that the Eritrean people are well too familiar with. In this environment of chaos and utter destructions a litany of purity test has been carried out before our eyes. Not because it is for the purpose of historical documentation, or legal fact-finding, but to advance a political agenda of the present by simply attempting to demolish the past. Employing the sink strategy in hoping something will stick, everything Eritrean has become a fair target to be attacked, lied about, and molded to advance in an intellectually dishonest manner.
Let me get directly to the point. I will leave for the professionals and the expert legal scholars in this area to take charge and educate us as to the letter and the sprit of the law. As for me, my argument will rest on the “Reasonable Person” standard and will present my view based on that; thus enclosed in parenthesis beneath each article will be my interpretation of the given article. UN Protocols, with respect to Children in Armed Conflict. This is known as OPTIONAL PROTOTCOL TO THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD ON THE INVOLVEMENT OF CHILDERIN IN ARMED CONFLICT: Volume 2173, A-27531 of the United Nations.
State Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities.
(This article does not address whether or not child under 18 could take an indirect part in hostilities; i.e. Surveillance, supply line, and messenger…etc.)
State Parties shall ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 18 years are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces.
(Under the age of 18 years volunteers are welcome)
Article 3, Paragraph 3(D)
Such persons provide reliable proof of age prior to acceptance into national military service.
(In the event more that 90% of the population does not possess birth certificates as probably was the case in Eritrea, what would then be the approach here?)
1. Armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.
(This is the only gray area where the restriction favors the state and puts Ghedli into a moral predicament. Because none of the articles provide a mechanism, which protects children from the state that is willing and forcefully eager to violate the letter and the sprit of the law as was demonstrated by Ethiopia over and over again. Should Ghedli then turn its back to the people that came willingly to the lion’s den? In the absence of proof of age documentation, wouldn’t a child have the motivation to increase or decrease his/her age? At this point wouldn’t it become “call it as you see it” in deciding who is to be accepted or to be denied?)
This predicament takes me to the next argument…
The Moral Argument
Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Ethiopia showed no restraint in its application of brutality. Distinctions were never made between old and young and men or women. Killing and making an example in killing were the driving force to terrorize any community. Therefore for the fleeing civilian/public, be it child or old, shouldn’t Ghedli have a moral responsibility to protect and create a safe haven for them for a refuge? If a 17-Year-old person is trained to protect the safety of the public…are we to say it is illegal? (Why is it OK for the state to do so and not for Ghedli?)
The Cultural Argument
When such moral turpitude was the prevailing ambience in one’s existence new cultural mores will begin to develop. The cultural mores that developed at the height of intensely brutal subjugation of a society was to unequivocally fight back; and that was exactly what took place with the young Eritreans whose parents would encourage them to join their brothers and sisters in fighting the monster that was an immediate threat to their existence – i.e., Ethiopia’s Dergue. The alternative, the parents knew this well, was the forced conscription of young Eritrean children to Ethiopia’s military force, which was precisely what took place with the Eritrean children who stayed within Eritrean proper where Dergue had full control.
As for giffa that was alluded to by ZL and YG…Giffa is nothing but poor nations’ Selective Service that is practiced in places like the U.S., where any American born after 1960 is mandated to register to serve in the military when the nation needs him so. The U.S. has the logistics by which not only would individual citizens be forced to join and fight on the mission that they may not agree with but would be held criminally responsible if they dodge the draft notices.
If we have to believe ZL’s argument and YG’s assertion of ghedli that was composed of conscripted farmers, who were oblivious to their surroundings, and underage children, who were made to believe the AK-47 as toys, yet would ultimately defeat the well-planned Russian military strategists, Cuban battlefield experts along with the well equipped Ethiopian military force. Ironic indeed that an ill composed group of farmers, according to YG, who couldn’t even pronounce the name Eritrea, the country for which they were fighting for, managed to defeat and score victory of the ultimate sort.
Oh, by the way, please YG & ZL, I urge you to please leave guayla alone. I just can’t imagine you two listening to Tigrinya music let alone dancing to its groove after the grim stories to which you’ve attempted to associate it with.
To be continued…