At a celebration of the fifty-second anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 2000, an RCD-Goma official told national human rights groups and U.N. officials that RCD-Goma was not recruiting children.37 In a meeting with Human Rights Watch on December 19, the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs of RCD-Goma repeated this denial and said that instructions had gone out to all RCD-Goma commanders not to recruit children.38 But Human Rights Watch researchers found that as part of general recruitment efforts, RCD-Goma soldiers, together with RPA soldiers, have recruited and continue to recruit children, often forcibly, and to train them for combat.
While denying that RCD-Goma was recruiting children, the head of their Department of Foreign Affairs did admit that they had "inherited" child soldiers recruited by the late President Laurent-Désiré Kabila for the campaign he waged together with Rwandan forces against the Mobutu government in 1996 and 1997. 39
The young army that we [the RPA] put in place when we arrived in Congo and which we called Kadogo is by far the best army in Congo. It was an army made up of youngsters, obedient and disciplined, but who needed to be better supervised, better trained. 41
Despite pledges from the Congolese government to demobilize children, Kabila's army continued recruiting them. Kabila broke with his erst-while allies in mid-1998 and told the Rwandans to withdraw their troops. Instead the Rwandan government and its newly created ally, the RCD, began a war against the Congolese government. Both the government and the RCD then stepped up recruitment and training of children, including by reenlisting previously demobilized child soldiers.42
Three boys who had been forcibly recruited in 1997, 1998, and 1999 at the ages of seventeen, thirteen, and sixteen recounted their experiences to a Human Rights Watch researcher. Two of these boys happened to be related but had been picked up separately some time apart, one on his way home from church and one on his way home from school. They ended up in the same training camp at Rumangabo, about eighty kilometers from Goma. They spoke of the two most important people in the camp being Rwandan army trainers, known by the names of Afandi Padiri and Innocent. The young men both escaped in April 2000 and said that they had heard that Afandi Padiri and Innocent had been redeployed to Kisangani.
One said: "They gave us wooden sticks shaped like guns-if you lost it, you'd be killed. We were shown real guns and how to work them but they always took them back later. Only when you got to the front were you given a gun."
The first time the two had tried to escape, they were caught and had been badly beaten as punishment. They said a third who had tried to escape was killed on the spot. On the second attempt the two boys were successful and with the help of villagers who hid them, they gradually made their way to safety.43
I was coming from school at about 5 p.m. I went to school in the afternoon. I was heading home when soldiers in a vehicle stopped me and made me get in. They were Rwandans. There were lots of other young boys in the vehicle. We went to the airport in Goma and from there to Kalemie by plane. We were all ten, twelve, thirteen years old and older. Then we were sent to Camp Vert in Moba and trained there. Lots were killed in the training. Lots died of sickness. The food was poorly prepared and many got dysentery.
The boy said that in Moba the commander of the Camp Vert military training camp was a Rwandan named Rugazura who had also been involved in training the recruits. This boy too had been beaten during the training and had visible scars on his head where he claimed he had been hit following a failed escape attempt. When he did escape, he too relied on the local population to hide him and give him food as he made the long journey back to Goma. On arriving in Goma he found that his father had been forcibly recruited and his mother had vanished. He was helped to flee and was, by chance, reunited with his mother. His mother said that until he reappeared she had had no idea of what had happened to him and had gone through the traditional mourning, believing him dead.44
A former RCD instructor said that he had deserted from RCD-Goma because he objected to the forced recruitment of children:
I was sent to certain zones to recruit people for the RCD army. Because none would volunteer, the RCD forced people into joining its army. In 1999, I was involved in the recruitment of children aged eleven to fifteen in the localities of Kasongo and Kalima in Maniema province. The RCD would usually recruit children from local schools, but the schools were closed down because parents feared the campaign. The RCD sent recruiters on a Sunday to wait for children who were on their way to church. A total of 500 children were rounded up that day in the two localities. They were taken by truck to the airport of Kalima and from there were airlifted to the training camp in Kalemie, a port town on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in Katanga province.
He said that children were trained at two camps in Kalemie, Camp Marin and Camp Mayito, where Rwandan army officers oversaw the training. According to this former instructor, children received between two and three weeks of basic physical training and then they were deployed to the battlefields.
They were trained on how to use arms and how to shoot, and that was the end of it. Some of the kids were even sent to battle without arms. They were sent ahead of battle-ready troops of the RCD and RPA to create a diversion. They were ordered to make a lot of noise, using sticks on tree trunks and the like. When they succeeded in diverting the attention of government troops, that is to say when they drew government fire on their unarmed elements, these units, known as the Kadogo Commando, would be literally allowed to fall like flies under government fire. The experienced troops would then attack the government troops when their attention was diverted to the Kadogo Commando.
The former RCD-Goma soldier said that he himself had witnessed this tactic near Kindu in a village called Lodja. The children involved had been recruited at Mateve in Kibumbo. In another battle at Kirungu village near Moba town in February 1999, he had witnessed the killing of at least a hundred Kadogo Commandos, the vast majority of them unarmed. "The lucky ones were buried in a mass grave," he said. "Others were left to the vultures."45
Recent U.N. reports have estimated that between 15 and 30 percent of all newly recruited combatants in the Congo are children under eighteen years of age, and a substantial number are under twelve years old.46 The number recruited by the government and by each armed faction is unknown. In the RCD-Goma training camp of Mushaki in Masisi, the U.N. estimates that of the over 3,000 newly recruited young soldiers, more than 60 percent are under the age of eighteen.47
According to a resident of Rutshuru, RCD-Goma and RPA soldiers abducted children from his community on or about November 17, 2000. "They come into the houses and take all the young children between thirteen and twenty and say they are to go and be soldiers. They also take young girls. It is done day or night, on operations [house to house] or by taking groups of children," he said.48
Both because children and young men have taken to sleeping away from home, as mentioned above, and because recruitment can be more quickly done in public places, soldiers raid for potential recruits at schools, on the roads, and at markets.
In one case reported to Human Rights Watch three students of the Kashofu Institute, aged fifteen and sixteen, from Idjwi Island were picked up on November 29, 2000 as they returned home from school at midday. Soldiers in a motorized canoe with another twenty-six young men on board drew alongside. They took the students by force and threw them into the canoe. In the process, the students threw their schoolbooks to other younger children who were watching the scene. They were taken to the north end of the island where they were put with 170 other boys and young men brought earlier from the south of the island. On December 3, 2000 they were taken to Goma on a boat called "Karisimbi." The next day they were taken to Mushaki training camp where there were another 200 young people, including a girl, they said. One of them tried to escape but was caught and severely beaten. The trainers, who were RPA soldiers, stole one of the victim's trousers, shoes, and shirt. The boys managed to escape a short while after in late 2000.49
In a case recently reported to Human Rights Watch, two boys, aged twelve and thirteen, escaped from Mushaki training camp in the first week of January 2001. One explained how he had been picked up by soldiers in the middle of Nyanzale market in Rutshuru on Christmas day 2000 at around 10 a.m.
I was forced to climb aboard a truck. In an hour the truck was full of children. We set off and a few minutes later when we arrived in a center the vehicle stopped and other children, some younger than me, were forced to get on board. Suddenly we found ourselves at Mushaki and the next day the training began. We didn't know why we had been taken there and what we had to do and that is the reason we thought we had better escape because that was the only way open to us to get out of this hell [sortir de l'enfer]. Our parents don't know where we are right now. I know they are worried. I would like to go back to them as soon as possible which will delight them. I do not want to be a soldier. I dream instead of being a farmer or a carpenter.50
Because soldiers are known to abduct children from school, the mere appearance of soldiers in the vicinity of a school can cause the children to panic. According to local sources, soldiers approached the secondary school at Kibumba in Nyarigonge zone, approximately twenty kilometers from Goma, one morning in mid-December 2000 while classes were underway. The students all scattered and ran and the school did not function for some time after as parents and pupils were not prepared to take the risk of possible further recruitment attempts.51 As a resident of Rutshuru commented: "Parents are scared to let their children go out. Previously children were taken ... and didn't return. So the parents are very worried." 52
A teacher told Human Rights Watch of another incident when soldiers passed near his school on the outskirts of Goma. His pupils panicked believing the soldiers were coming to the school to take them away for military training. "They wanted to climb out of the windows to escape," said their teacher. In the event the soldiers passed by without stopping.53
As noted, soldiers are sometimes willing to free abducted children and young people in return for payment. One boy, now sixteen years old, said in written testimony that he was first recruited for rebel forces in 1996 and was then forcibly reenlisted three times. At one point he was taken to a transit camp at Kinyogote while waiting to be transported to Mushaki. "There, there were about seventy young people among whom there were old and new recruits and among whom there were boys fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen years old," he said. He said his uncle once paid about U.S. $15 to have him released.54 A local resident recounted similar cases in Maniema Province where children, some under twelve years old, were recruited in Kasongo area, particularly in the communities of Mulu and Maringa. Children could be bought back from soldiers for a payment of ten goats, he said.55
37 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, December 17, 2000.
38 Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph Mudumbi, Goma, December 19, 2000.
40 Led by then-rebel Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the AFDL was a coalition of political parties from eastern Congo that, with support from Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, and Burundi overthrew President Mobutu in a seven-month war which began in October 1996. For more details, see Human Rights Watch, "Democratic Republic of Congo: What Kabila is Hiding, Civilian Killings and Impunity in Congo," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 9, no. 5 (A), October, 1997 and "Uncertain Course: Transition and Human Rights Violations in the Congo," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 9, no. 9(A), December, 1997 (also available in French).
41 "Homme-mythe, le Colonel James Kabarebe lève un coin de son voil," an interview with Col. James Kabarebe published in Kinyarwanda in the review Ingabo, no 51, translated into French by Le Soft International and posted on www.lesoftonline.net/james.html.
42 See Human Rights Watch, "Casualties of War: Civilians, Rule of Law, and Democratic Freedoms," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 11, no, 1 (A), February 1999; Human Rights Watch campaign statement, The Use of Child Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1999 at www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/congo.htm; and "Human Rights Watch Condemns Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Congo," August 11, 1998, at www.hrw.org/press98/aug/cong0811.htm.
43 Human Rights Watch interview, December, 2000.
44 Human Rights Watch interviews, December, 2000.
45 Human Rights Watch interview, December, 2000.
46 Fifth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, S/2000/1156, December 6, 2000, paragraph 72.
47 Sixth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, S/2001/128, February 12, 2001, paragraph 65.
48 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, December 7, 2000.
49 Name withheld to protect identity, written communication to Human Rights Watch, January, 2001
50 Human Rights Watch source January 1, 2001.
51 Human Rights Watch interviews, Goma, December 17 and December 19, 2000. Human Rights Watch has not confirmed whether the school has reopened.
52 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, December 7, 2000.
53 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, December 18, 2000.
54 Written testimony provided by a local observer to Human Rights Watch, Goma, December 19, 2000.
55 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, December 8, 2000.