For nearly three years, rebel movements backed by Rwanda and Uganda have waged a disastrous war against the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and its foreign allies. According to the most recent estimates by demographic experts, some two and a half million persons have perished in combat or through war-related deprivation of food, water, and medical aid. The Congolese government and its allies Zimbabwe,Angola, and Namibia; the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie-Goma, RCD-Goma) and its backer, Rwanda; and the Congo Liberation Front (Front pour la liberation du Congo, FLC) and its supporter, Uganda agreed under the terms of the 1999 Lusaka Accords to halt the conflict. Only in February 2001 did Rwanda and Uganda begin pulling back their troops from the front lines. Anticipating continued progress towards peace, the United Nations deployed observers and troops as part of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC).
But soon after both Rwanda and Uganda called into question the prospects for peace. In early April Rwandan President Paul Kagame stated that Rwandan troops would not finally leave Congo until his government judged its security assured. In early May Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced that his government was no longer bound by the Lusaka Accords, although he then reversed himself and said that Uganda would abide by the agreement and withdraw its troops from most areas. The Rwandan ally and surrogate, RCD-Goma, at one point refused to allow MONUC troops to land at Kisangani although it later relented and troops of the Ugandan ally, the FLC, have refused to pull back from the front lines.
In addition, local observers report that at least some of the Rwandan and Ugandan troops being withdrawn from the front lines are being redeployed elsewhere in eastern Congo. Others report that additional Rwandan troops entered the Kivus in early May. And the Rwandan-backed RCD-Goma has continued to forcibly recruit adults and children in violation of international human rights standards and apparently in preparation for further conflict.1
This report, based upon a mission to the region in December 2000 and subsequent research, documents an intensive campaign of forcible recruitment of adults and children begun by RCD-Goma and its Rwandan allies in the last quarter of 2000. RCD-Goma was able to take control of much of the eastern Congo in mid-1998 with the assistance of soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and continues to rely upon them to maintain its hold over the region. The leaders of RCD-Goma operate under the influence of the Rwandan authorities with whom they are frequently in contact.
Human Rights Watch researchers found evidence in December 2000 that Congolese soldiers of RCD-Goma and soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) had abducted both children and young men from roadsides, markets, and their homes.2 They had taken the unwilling recruits to military training camps in preparation for armed combat against their own government and their fellow countrymen. The head of RCD-Goma's Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed to Human Rights Watch researchers that a military recruitment campaign was going on but denied that any children were being recruited or that anyone was recruited against his will.3
As the international community has begun to criticize the forcible recruitment of children, recruiters have shifted their activities further from town to escape observation and they have in some cases moved from the use of force to the use of coercion or the promise of rewards to enroll new recruits.
1 Human Rights Watch interviews, London, May 9, 2001 and Kampala, by telephone, May 19, 2001.
2 Under international law, persons below the age of eighteen are considered children (article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, September 2, 1990). All states are party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child except for the United States of America and Somalia.
3 Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph Mudumbi, Goma, December 19, 2000.