(New York) - The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo should urgently carry out new recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to protect children from violence and abuse, Human Rights Watch and the Coalition of Congolese Non-governmental Organizations on Child Rights (CODE) said today.
In its concluding observations on the state of children's rights in Congo, released on January 30, 2009, the UN body expressed grave concern that the Congolese government, through its armed forces, bears "direct responsibility for violations" and that the government has failed to protect children from rights violations by other non-state armed groups.
"The Committee on the Rights of the Child's new findings highlight the unbelievable suffering of children in Congo," said Juliane Kippenberg, senior researcher in the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "The committee makes clear that the blame for child rights abuses in eastern Congo lies not only with militias and rebel groups, but also with the government itself."
The committee expressed concern about violations of virtually all articles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, such as protection from violence, sexual abuse, labor exploitation, child trafficking, abductions, child soldier recruitment, and arbitrary arrest. It also expressed grave concern about very high rates of infant, under-5, and maternal mortality, and low enrollment rates in school.
The UN body called upon the government to expedite putting into practice the recently adopted Child Protection Code and other relevant protection measures. It also called on the government to, among other things:
- Restart the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program for former child soldiers, including girls;
- Provide adequate assistance for refugee and internally displaced children, and protection from all forms of violence;
- Establish programs for the protection and reintegration of street children, including protection from military and police abuses;
- Criminalize accusing children of witchcraft;
- Require that perpetrators of sexual offenses against children be brought to justice;
- Take steps to eliminate exploitative child labor, particularly in its worst forms, and to end trafficking and sale of children;
- Take steps to ensure that primary health care is both accessible and affordable, and to address high infant, child, and maternal mortality rates, and death caused by preventable diseases and HIV/AIDS; and
- Collaborate with the International Criminal Court (ICC), and offer support for the peacekeeping force MONUC and UN mechanisms for child rights.
"The government should take these recommendations seriously and start implementing them immediately," said Theódore Kabanga, the coordinator of CODE. "The government should ensure that all crimes against children, whether committed by rebel groups, the government's own security forces, or individuals, are investigated and prosecuted."
The Committee on the Rights of the Child is a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) among all state parties. On January 21, 2009, a Congolese government delegation led by the minister for human rights presented the second report on his government's implementation of the convention to the committee in Geneva.
The committee issued its concluding observations based on the government's written report, the committee's oral exchange with the government, and input from UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and other independent observers. The two country rapporteurs dealing with Congo were Moushira Khattab from Egypt and Kamel Filali from Algeria.