(New York) - The major rebel group in eastern Congo continues to recruit children to wage war against the Congolese government, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released today.
The report, "Reluctant Recruits: Children and Adults Forcibly Recruited for Military Service in North Kivu," details recruitment efforts since late 2000 by the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma) and the Rwandan army troops who support it. RCD-Goma has repeatedly pledged to demobilize its child soldiers, but has not fulfilled these promises, the report says.
"Children are being abducted and sent to battle by the very soldiers who are supposed to protect them," said Alison Des Forges, Senior Adviser to the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "RCD-Goma must live up to its agreements to end this terrible practice."
As part of the 1999 Lusaka Accords, RCD-Goma agreed to halt the use of children as soldiers. In May 2000, RCD-Goma said it would create a commission to supervise demobilization of child soldiers, but a year later the commission is not functioning effectively. In April 2001, authorities of the rebel movement promised to deliver several hundred children in training at military camps to representatives of the United Nations. But several days later, they reportedly allowed some 1800 new recruits between the ages of 12 and 17 to graduate from training at one of these camps. Each child soldier received a new uniform and firearm.
In the early months of the recruitment campaign, RCD-Goma soldiers and their Rwandan allies simply abducted children and young men who were sent for military training and later service in the rebel forces. Recruiters picked up children on their way to school or church and took adults en route to work or the market. In some cases, they raided homes, taking away anyone who might be made into a soldier. In some communities parents refused to send their children to school for fear of their being kidnapped. In others, families slept outdoors to avoid raids on their houses or organized to create an uproar when military raiders arrived in the community so that children and young men might escape. As the use of child soldiers attracted increasingly critical comment from international observers, RCD-Goma moved recruiting efforts further from urban centers, making it harder to document their activities. They are also increasingly using promises of rewards to enroll poor and hungry children who lacked other sources of support.
The RCD-Goma military forces pressure local civilian authorities to deliver new recruits. To ensure their cooperation with this and other efforts, RCD-Goma and their Rwandan backers in February 2001 transported more than 400 Congolese officials and traditional chiefs to Rwanda for five weeks of ideological and paramilitary training at a Rwandan military camp. "According to observers on the spot, trucks are still rolling through Goma, transporting children to military camps in the Congo and even to Rwanda for training," said Des Forges. "This is bad news, both for those children and for hopes for peace in the Congo."