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Ethiopia / South Sudan: Bring back the missing abducted children from the Gambella region

GENEVA (14 October 2016) – Six months after the abduction of 159 children from the Gambella region of Ethiopia, 68 remain unaccounted for, two UN human rights experts today pressed Ethiopian and South Sudanese authorities to urgently resume joint efforts to ensure the return of the remaining missing children.

On the 15 April 2016, armed men from the Murle ethnic group reportedly attacked 13 Nuer villages in the Jikaw and Lare districts, Gambella region, Ethiopia. The attack reportedly led to 208 people being killed and 159 children abducted. Another 80 people were reportedly wounded and over 2,000 cattle stolen. In the first two months after the attack, 91 children were rescued through the concerted efforts of Ethiopian and South Sudanese authorities. However, since then, rescue operations have reportedly stopped.

The UN experts on the sale of children and on extrajudicial and summary executions expressed deep concern that as time goes by, “it will become increasingly difficult for these children to be found and released. Consequently, authorities in both countries are urged to redouble efforts to find and release the missing children as a matter of priority. These past six months have been absolutely intolerable for these children and for their families.”

The experts also warned that the 68 children, who are all under the age of 13, are at grave risk of being sold and exploited by their captors. Twenty-six children from the Anywa ethnic minority who were abducted in previous raids earlier this year are also still unaccounted for.

“The abduction and ensuing sale and exploitation of children are abhorrent violations of the rights of the child,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio. “What is even more worrying is that there appears to be a growing pattern of armed groups targeting civilians, and in particular children, with a complete disregard for international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and in complete impunity.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, stressed that “Ethiopian and South Sudanese authorities must take concrete steps to break the cycle of violence and prevent the recurrence of such heinous attacks. This requires working with the targeted communities to identify and implement all necessary prevention and precautionary measures to protect the children and their communities against future raids, killings and abductions. Prevention also demands thorough investigations of the killings, attacks and abductions committed last April with the view of determining responsibilities and holding perpetrators to account.”

The attacks left a reported total of 662 children without one or both parents. Seventeen such children are believed to be part of the 91 rescued children, and they have been placed in alternative care. These orphaned children are now extremely vulnerable and require special protection and assistance, the experts said, to ensure their rights to care, recovery and development.

“We salute the aid that has been provided so far to the 91 freed children, but urge the Ethiopian authorities to ensure that all precautions are taken to return these children to their parents, extended families and communities, with the best interest of the child as a guiding principle,” underlined the experts. “The identification and registration of returned children is a complex process which requires due diligence and proper corroboration to ensure that no mistakes are committed in the reunifications, by guaranteeing among others the right to be heard of these children.”

“The future of children in the Gambella region will be forever compromised if they cannot grow in a peaceful and stable environment,” the experts warned, calling on the Government to ensure long-term strategies are in place for these communities to rebuild themselves. This entails the provision of financial support and assistance in kind as well as addressing the root causes of these recurring attacks.

The two UN human rights experts urged the international community to assist both governments in their search for the 68 children as well as in the delivery of all the necessary support to the victims of these murderous attacks.


The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in May 2014. As a Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organisation and serves in her individual capacity. To learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Children/Pages/ChildrenIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, has a distinguished career in human rights and humanitarian work globally. She is the Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University and has previously worked with Article 19 and Amnesty International. Ms. Callamard has advised multilateral organizations and governments around the world, has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries, and has published extensively on human rights and related fields. To learn more, visit:

The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. To learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Ethiopia:

UN Human Rights, Country Page – South Sudan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/SSIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Mr. Dorian Hall (+41 22 917 96 31) or write to srsaleofchildren@ohchr.org

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