Your Excellencies:

As you consider the Secretary-General's new report on children and armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (S/2008/693), Human Rights Watch would like to take this opportunity to provide you with additional information and recommendations regarding violations against children that have accompanied the recent escalation of conflict in the Eastern DRC.

In late August, the Congolese army (FARDC) and the rebel group led by Laurent Nkunda, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), resumed heavy fighting. The Congolese army has sometimes been aided by pro-government militias, including the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO) and other Mai Mai groups, as well as by a Rwandan armed group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), some of whose leaders participated in the 1994 genocide. The CNDP has drawn on active or passive support from Rwanda, such as the ability to recruit combatants in Rwandan territory, including at least 30 children.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed, and other abuses include rapes, looting, and recruitment of child soldiers. Over 1 million people are now displaced from their homes in the province of North Kivu alone, with limited assistance from humanitarian agencies, which often cannot reach those in need because of ongoing fighting.

In addition to the renewed fighting in the Kivus in the east, the Lord's Resistance Army has also renewed attacks and abduction of children in the northeast, in Orientale Province.

The Secretary-General's report provides critical information regarding violations against children in the DRC for the period from June 2007 to September 2008. To supplement his important report, we provide below additional information regarding violations against children that have taken place since the end of August, in order to inform your discussions and deliberations.

Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers:

All parties to the conflict in North Kivu have forcibly recruited civilians, including children, and forced them to serve as soldiers. Forced recruitment has increased in the last few months as parties, particularly the CNDP and the pro-government Mai Mai militias, try to make up for combatants killed in battle. Afraid of being forcibly recruited, many young men and boys flee their homes and spend the night sleeping outside in the bush or near MONUC bases.

On the basis of reliable reports received by Human Rights Watch, we believe that at least 175 children have been forcibly recruited into armed service since late August 2008, and there are further reports of many others. These children have been sent to the frontlines or are used as porters, guards, or sex slaves.

Many of those recently recruited are "re-recruits" who have already gone through demobilization programs. Demobilization efforts in eastern DRC often fail to reintegrate former child soldiers into their communities because programs supporting reintegration are too brief and little or no support is provided for former child soldiers after they leave transit centers and return to their families and communities.

In eastern DRC, Human Rights Watch has received information regarding the following credible reports of recent recruitment:

CNDP: In some areas of Rutshuru and Masisi territories, the CNDP and other armed groups have  gone from door to door  to force young boys and adults - aged between 14 and 40 - to go to the frontlines, without any prior military training. During the week of November 9, reports documented the recruitment by force of hundreds of civilians by the CNDP, especially in Kitchanga, Kiwanja, Rutshuru and Rubare. In some cases, families that refused to provide a family member were forced to pay US$200 or provide an IOU for that amount.

In mid-September, the CNDP and its rival PARECO forcibly recruited an estimated 50 children and dozens of adults, just outside the displaced persons camp in Ngungu (Masisi territory). Some of these families had fled to Ngungu days earlier after the CNDP and PARECO fought in neighboring villages. One of those recruited reported to Human Rights Watch that the CNDP recruited boys and men from ages 12 to 40. The recruits were badly beaten and told that they would transport ammunition for the CNDP soldiers. However, once they were taken to Murambi, they were given military uniforms and weapons training. New recruits joined the group every day. (See attached testimony.)

The CNDP has also recruited children in several schools in Rutshuru and Masisi territories. In October, 13 students were recruited by force in a school between Shasha and Kirotshe. One child was able to escape, but the CNDP shot and killed him while fleeing. The others are still with the CNDP.

Mai-Mai: Child protection agencies report that 36 children were recruited into military service by a pro-government Mai Mai militia in Rutshuru territory in eastern Congo in late October 2008.  These children may have been involved in the Mai Mai's attack on Kiwanja on November 4, when witnesses reported seeing at least 30 children - and possibly many more - amongst the combatants. The PARECO Mai Mai group has also recruited child soldiers.

Lord's Resistance Army: The Lord's Resistance Army has abducted scores of children from September through November in northeastern Congo. On September 17-18, the LRA attacked several villages simultaneously, abducting at least 45 children from Kiliwa and Duru. On October 19 and 20, LRA rebels killed at least six people and abducted 17 others (ages not known to Human Rights Watch) to transport their looted goods. On November 1, 2008, LRA forces attacked Dungu, the capital of Haut-Uélé district, in Orientale province. According to local sources, LRA fighters abducted at least 36 boys and 21 girls after fighting in which three Congolese government soldiers were killed. 

FARDC: The Congolese army has also recruited children to transport and distribute weapons to various units in Masisi territory, especially in areas where it's difficult for vehicles to reach. Some of these boys are PARECO combatants, who keep some of the weapons they are supposed to transfer to the Congolese army. Congolese army elements have also given weapons to Mai Mai combatants, including children, in the Grand Nord area around Lubero and Beni.

Sexual Violence:

Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped since the war in the DRC began in 1996, frequently by members of the security forces or armed groups. The Secretary-General reports that between June 2007 and June 2008, the UN recorded 5,517 cases of sexual violence against children in Ituri, and North and South Kivu, representing 31 percent of all sexual violence victims. Rapes by members of the parties to the armed conflict continue, including the following recent incidents:

FARDC: On October 29, 2008, Congolese army soldiers fleeing a CNDP advance rampaged through Goma, killing at least 20 civilians, including five children, injuring more than a dozen others, and looting shops and homes alike. They also raped over a dozen women and girls as they fled through Goma towards Sake and Minova.

CNDP: Nkunda's troops used rape to intimidate and incite fear amongst the civilian population during their take-over of Rutshuru and Kiwanja on and after October 29. Through interviews with rape survivors, their relatives and other witnesses, Human Rights Watch found that CNDP soldiers raped at least 16 women and girls in their homes and farms and on roads in both towns in the month following the CNDP's takeover. One 16-year-old girl was raped by a CNDP soldier in a farm outside Rutshuru while she was trying to flee towards Goma on October 29. (See attached testimony.) CNDP soldiers also reportedly raped at least six women and girls inside the displacement camp outside MONUC's base in Kiwanja on November 27.

FDLR: Also in North Kivu, FDLR combatants have carried out rapes and other abuses. One witness described to Human Rights Watch an incident in April 2008 when eight FDLR combatants raped seven girls and young women, aged 16, 17, and 18, near the village of Buhuga in Rutshuru territory. The group was abducted at 2 p.m. one afternoon, and not released until 4 p.m. the following day. (See attached testimony.)

Recommendations:

Human Rights Watch strongly supports the recommendations of the Secretary-General in his report of November 10, 2008, and in particular, highlights the following recommendations:

  • All parties to the conflict should immediately end all violations against children, including killing and maiming, abduction, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, sexual violence, denial of humanitarian access, and attacks on schools and hospitals;
  • The government of the DRC should follow through on its existing commitment to prepare a concrete, time-bound action plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers and demobilize all children from its ranks;
  • All other parties to the armed conflict, including the CNDP, FDLR and Mai Mai should immediately end all recruitment of children and prepare action plans to demobilize all children from their ranks and prevent any future recruitment of children;
  • The Congolese government, child protection agencies, and international donors should make demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers, including girls associated with armed groups, a priority in eastern Congo's peace program, and support community based programming that provides long-term follow-up and support for former child soldiers and brings them together with other youth in the community;
  • The government should increase its efforts to combat impunity through the investigation and prosecution of crimes against children.

We support the Secretary-General's recommendations that the government should develop a comprehensive national strategy to prevent, respond to and combat sexual violence, and suggest that the working group could specifically call for:

  • Implementation of Security Council resolution 1794 (paragraph 15), calling on Congolese authorities to establish a vetting mechanism in the Congolese army to remove top officers with a track record of serious human rights abuses, including sexual violence;
  • Additional support from donors for the existing pilot project of a mobile court of judges, prosecutors, and other magistrates to travel to rural areas specifically to try crimes of rape;
  • The creation of a "mixed chamber" (which would include a complement of international staff) within the Congolese justice system that would try the most serious crimes such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, including crimes of rape.

In addition, we urge the Security Council to:

  • Urge MONUC, members of the Security Council, and governments in the region to work together to apprehend leaders of the LRA who are wanted by the International Criminal Court;
  • Call on MONUC and OHCHR to publish promptly reports on serious human rights violations, including abuses against children and incidents of sexual violence;
  • Call on all parties to the conflict and international actors to cooperate with the International Criminal Court's (ICC) investigations in Ituri and in the Kivus, including by enforcing the ICC's outstanding arrest warrant against Bosco Ntaganda, Laurent Nkunda's military chief of staff, in relation to crimes relating to child soldiers allegedly committed in Ituri in 2002-2003;
  • Encourage the Congolese government to adopt legislation to implement the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which includes crimes relating to the recruitment of children as soldiers and using them to participate in hostilities that are not currently provided for in Congolese criminal law;
  • Urge international donors to provide adequate support to MONUC child protection staff to monitor and report on child rights violations;
  • Call on the government of the DRC to cut ties between the Congolese armed forces and combatants of the FDLR and carry out its commitment under the November 2007 agreement to disarm the FDLR;
  • Request the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the DRC to, in accordance with Security Council resolutions 1539, 1612, and 1807 (para 13d), impose targeted measures, including arms embargoes, travel bans, asset freezes, and other measures as appropriate against parties to the armed conflict specifically for the recruitment and use of child soldiers in violation of international standards;

Human Rights Watch notes that in July 2006, the Security Council (Resolution 1698) decided that leaders in the DRC who recruited or used child soldiers should be subject to existing travel bans and asset freezes, and that in October 2007, the Security Council working group informed the chairman of the sanctions committee on the DRC of its concern regarding repeated violations by persons named in the Secretary-General's report (S/AC.51/2007/17). Resolution 1807 of March 31, 2008 reiterated that individuals and entities that recruited or used children in armed conflict in violation of applicable international law should be subject to travel bans and asset freezes. However, we note that of the 22 individuals and entities currently subject to travel bans or asset freezes under resolution 1596, none are specifically named for their recruitment or use of child soldiers.

Since 2002, four of the parties mentioned above - the FARDC, the FDLR, the Mai Mai, and the LRA - have been listed consistently in each of the Secretary-General's reports to the Security Council on children and armed conflict for violations of international standards prohibiting the recruitment and use of child soldiers. As such, they are among the 14 "persistent violators" worldwide that have been identified in all of the Secretary -General's reports, and merit the Security Council's strongest action.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Steve Crawshaw, UN Advocacy Director

Jo Becker, Children's Rights Advocacy Director

cc: Ms. Radhika Coomeraswamy, Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Appendix: Statements

All names below are pseudonyms.

Anthony:

Anthony was one of an estimated 50 children and dozens of adults forcibly recruited in mid-September by the rival forces, CNDP and PARECO, just outside the displaced persons camp in Ngungu (Masisi territory). His family had fled to Ngungu days earlier after the CNDP and PARECO fought in their home village of Numbi.

"Five CNDP soldiers stopped me on the road in the middle of the day. They sent me with a large group of other men and boys - some as young as 12, others as old as 40 - to Murambi where they said we would transport boxes of ammunition for the rebel soldiers. They beat us badly so we couldn't resist. When we got to Murambi, they didn't order us to transport boxes, but instead gave us military uniforms and taught us how to use weapons. Then after three days, they put us all in an underground prison. We stayed there for four days, and new recruits joined us everyday. On the fourth day, they called us out of the prison and took us to Karuba. That night, I managed to escape with two other recruits, and we ran all the way back to Ngungu. The others who remained behind were sent to Kitchanga for military training."

When Anthony and the others arrived in Ngungu, they sought refuge at the MONUC base. Like many fighters who choose to disarm or who escape forced recruitment, they were then handed over to Congolese authorities who sent them to the military intelligence prison in Goma (known as the T2) as a transit point on their way to demobilization camps. Detainees at this prison are often held for weeks or months without charge and are subjected to cruel and degrading treatment; some are tortured. After five days at the T2 without eating, Anthony managed to escape from the prison and he again sought refuge at a MONUC base in Goma.

"I want to go back to our home in Numbi," Anthony said. "But I'm scared. If the CNDP soldiers find me there, they will kill me."

Marie:

Marie is a 16-year-old girl who was raped by a CNDP soldier in a farm outside Rutshuru on October 29, just after the CNDP took control of the town.

"The day the CNDP arrived in Rutshuru, they pillaged my neighborhood and shot and killed two boys, so I decided to flee to Goma. I ran through the farms on the edge of Rutshuru and met two Tutsi soldiers with guns and spears. They stopped me in the farm. I was alone. One of the soldiers spoke Kinyarwanda, and the other spoke Swahili. They said, ‘we're going to kill you.' Then they put a knife on my arm. I said, ‘no, please pardon me.' Then they said, ‘The only way we can pardon you is if we rape you.' They cut my clothes off with the knife. One of the soldiers raped me from 4pm until 7pm. There was blood everywhere. Then when the second soldier wanted to start, there were lots of gunshots nearby and they left, saying that if I fled they would kill me. After that, I managed to escape and made it to Kibati [a large displacement camp outside Goma]. I'm still in a lot of pain, but I don't have any medicine and there's no one here to treat me."

Liliane:

Liliane lives in a displaced persons camp in Rutshuru. She was raped when she went back to her village to look for something to eat.

"One time, when I tried to go back to my village, the FDLR stopped me and raped me. They took me on the side of the road, near the village Buhuga. There were eight FDLR combatants. I was with seven other girls. All of us were raped. The other girls were from my village, but they don't live in this camp. They took us at 2 p.m. and let us go the next day at 4 p.m. We spent the night with them and then they let us go. One soldier raped me; there was one soldier for each girl. They abused us badly. They used their weapons to threaten us, but they didn't use them against us. I was 17-years-old when this happened. The other girls were 16, 17, and 18 years old. I studied until the sixth primary level, but I can't study now that I'm displaced. I just want the FDLR and the CNDP to leave so I can return home and continue my life."