In its eagerness to promote the Lusaka Accords and a settlement to the conflict, the international community used its diplomatic pressure largely to try to move Rwanda towards ending the war but it said little about abuses committed by Rwandan troops, including the use of child soldiers in this war.
After declining for months to name Rwanda and Uganda in its calls for withdrawal of foreign troops from the Congo, the Security Council lost patience in 2000 and by resolutions 1304 (2000) and 1332 (2000) demanded that Rwanda and Uganda withdraw their forces from Congolese territory. It did not, however, take any meaningful steps to hold them accountable for abuses by their forces in Congo.
Reports by MONUC and UNICEF personnel about the recruitment of Congolese children and their transportation to Uganda for military training pushed the Security Council to long over-due action on the problem of child soldiers. In Resolution 1332 (2000) of December 14, 2000 it expressed grave concern over "the continued recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed forces and groups, including cross-border recruitment and abduction of children." Although spurred by information from zones controlled by Uganda, the resolution was not limited to that region and called on "all armed forces and groups immediately to cease all campaigns for the recruitment, abduction, cross-border deportation and use of children, and [demanded] immediate steps for the demobilization, disarmament, return and rehabilitation of all such children with the assistance of relevant United Nations and other agencies and organizations."72
U.N. officials, including the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, raised the issue of recruitment of children with the RCD-Goma leadership in November and December of 2000.73 Apparently as a result, cases of forcible recruitment generally and cases of recruitment of children in particular reportedly diminished in the town of Goma where the majority of U.N. and humanitarian agencies are based. Human Rights Watch, however, has received reports that such recruitment continues further afield in most of the provinces held by RCD-Goma.74
In resolution 1341 of February 22, 2001, the Security Council expressed concern about violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Congo, condemning the massacres and other atrocities, and reminded all parties-including occupying forces-that they were obliged to protect the civilian population. But it neither specifically mentioned the problem of child soldiers nor did it call for accountability for abuses as part of any credible reconciliation process.75
Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, visited the DRC in early October 2000 to underscore her concern at the grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the country, particularly in eastern Congo. In talks with Congolese government and the RCD-Goma, she asked for the end of a number of human rights violations by the government and the rebels.76
For several years UNICEF and the U.N. special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, have worked to end abductions of children by rebel groups. Reports by UNICEF staff as well as by child protection officers attached to MONUC sparked the Security Council resolution mentioned above which denounced the use of child soldiers. But Congolese children trained by Uganda and Rwanda for their respective Congolese rebel allies and deployed in combat zones have generally received less attention than other groups, such as the children forcibly incorporated into the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda.77
Bilateral and multilateral donors, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have done little to discourage Rwandan participation in the Congolese war or resulting abuses. They have continued to provide substantial assistance to the Rwandan government without taking effective steps to ensure that this support does not facilitate Rwanda's transfer of additional resources to pay for an abusive war. In late 2000, ten members of the board of the World Bank abstained on a vote concerning aid to Rwanda, reportedly linking their refusal of support to the continued Rwandan military presence in the DRC.78 Although the loan was then approved, the vote demonstrated the new seriousness with which donor governments were examining Rwandan participation in the Congolese war.
The European Commission in June 1999 cautioned the European Union (E.U.) Council of Ministers and Parliament that donors must seek to keep development funds from being misused for military purposes. But the E.U. took no effective steps to implement this warning when it gave assistance to Rwanda.
In political dialogue with Rwanda and through missions to the region by its envoy, Aldo Ajello, the E.U. stressed the importance of implementing the Lusaka Accord. It indicated its readiness to help by providing assistance for resettling the displaced, facilitating reconciliation, and beginning rehabilitation of the economy.79 The E.U. also repeatedly stressed the importance of avoiding human rights abuses in the Congo conflict. But it failed to require either compliance with the Lusaka agreement or an end to abuses by Rwandan troops as conditions for further assistance.
The European Commission assists Rwanda in the context of its five-year National Indicative Programs (NIP). In March 2000, the commission signed such an agreement with Rwanda, providing for 110 million euros over a period of five years. It apparently did not use this occasion to raise any concerns about Rwandan military abuses, such as the use of child soldiers, in Congo.
By February 27, 2001 the E.U. General Affairs Council was ready to echo the U.N. Security Council resolution 1341 and "expressed its deep concern at the continuing serious human rights violations in the DRC." The General Affairs Council went on to remind "the governments concerned of their responsibility and accountability for upholding the respect for human rights by their own armed forces as well as by the armed forces under their de facto control." The council also voiced its "dismay at the continued recruitment and use of child soldiers in the conflict" and urged all parties to end this practice immediately. It welcomed the request of the U.N. Security Council in its resolution 1341 "to mandate the special representative for children and armed conflicts to pursue this objective on a priority basis." The council stated that the E.U. would "consider appropriate measures which could be imposed" if the parties to the conflict did not honour their commitments under the Lusaka agreement and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.80
The new administration in the U.S. under President George W. Bush inherited an Africa policy meant to promote regional stability and prevent renewed genocide and mass killings in Central Africa. U.S. decision makers for years narrowly equated preventing genocide with neutralizing the former Rwandan Armed Forces (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe militia who executed the 1994 Rwandan genocide and remained at large in eastern Congo.81 Disarming, demobilizing, and, where appropriate, prosecuting these combatants remains a collective responsibility for the world community, but stability in the region also requires accountability from Rwandan forces for abuses committed in Congo and inside their own country.82
As the Clinton administration drew to a close, it was increasingly clear that the "new leaders" policy which it once championed had lost credibility as the leaders once thought to be beacons of hope were more and more identified with serious human rights abuses. In August 2000 a U.S. government team led by Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer collected information in Kinshasa, Kisangani, Goma, and Butembo that pointed to violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups supported by the DRC government, Congolese rebel movements, and Ugandan and Rwandan troops.83
U.S. military training for Rwandan troops under the International Military Education Training Program (IMET) was suspended after Rwandan and Ugandan troops fought each other at Kisangani in June 2000. For the fiscal year 2001, the U.S. government has plans to contribute nearly $25 million to Rwanda, most of it aid for development or humanitarian aid programs. Although U.S. financial support has not been substantial, its political support has been of great importance to Rwanda. The Bush administration seems unlikely to offer such firm support in the immediate future.
Apparently in reaction to criticism by the Security Council, expressions of concern by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, and continuing pressure from UNICEF and MONUC representatives on the ground, RCD-Goma is changing its approach to recruitment, particularly of children. In towns and other areas most accessible to outside observers, they are shifting away from actual abduction to greater reliance on the use of coercion and promises of rewards to persuade children to enroll. Distant from towns, however, RCD-Goma soldiers continue to use force to recruit unwilling children and adults.
As at the end of 2000, RCD-Goma continues to rely on local authorities to assist in these recruitment efforts. To promote greater cooperation in the recruitment campaign as in other measures which they wish to see carried out in eastern Congo, Rwandan authorities undertook a training program with local officials and traditional leaders. A group of 425 Congolese authorities from the Kivus, Oriental, and Katanga provinces were summoned to Goma on February 9, 2001, supposedly for a meeting with the governor. There they were loaded on buses and transported across the border to Camp Kami, a military camp in Rwanda. They had not been informed that they would be required to leave Goma nor were they given any opportunity to inform their families of their whereabouts.
At the camp, the Congolese authorities were submitted to a rigorous program of ideological and paramilitary training. They began the day at 5:30 a.m. and engaged in physical training before being exposed to long sessions meant to persuade them to accept the Rwandan view of current events in the region. They trained at marching in formation and learned how to handle firearms. Some of the more elderly participants suffered ill-effects from the rigorous program and one, a man from South Kivu, died on February 18.
According to participants, leading Rwandan military and political figures, including representatives of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, came to the training camp to review their progress. One participant reported that they were told that they would be allowed to return home only after agreeing that Rwanda should exercise the determining influence on events in eastern Congo.84
On March 18 Roberto Garreton, the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, inquired about the continued detention of the men in a Rwandan military camp. Two days later they were permitted to return home.85 Dressed in military uniforms, they were presented to the local population of Goma at the stadium.
Under continuing pressure from U.N. representatives, RCD-Goma authorities promised in early April that they would end the recruitment of child soldiers and would demobilize those already in their forces. They undertook to work with U.N. and other international agencies to help return these children to their homes. The president of RCD-Goma reportedly pledged specifically to hand over 267 children to UNICEF from Kamama camp in Kasai Oriental and 400 more from Mushaki camp in North Kivu, a camp frequently mentioned by witnesses who spoke with Human Rights Watch researchers.
But at a ceremony several days later marking the end of a training program at Mushaki, nearly 1800 of the 3,000 graduates were children aged twelve to seventeen. Along with the adults, they received new uniforms and firearms, indicating that they would be serving in the army. Important RCD-Goma leaders and high-ranking Rwandan military officers attended the ceremony.86
According to witnesses, a truck with some forty children was seen heading for the Rwandan frontier on April 5, reportedly en route for Camp Kami. On April 10, at about 1 p.m., other observers saw two Rwandan army trucks, each carrying some sixty children, and accompanied by Rwandan soldiers leaving Goma in the direction of the Rwandan border. From the Rwandan side of the border, witnesses have also reported the arrival of Congolese children for training in one or more military camps.87 This information suggests that both RCD-Goma and Rwandan military authorities continue their efforts to transform reluctant recruits into child soldiers.
71 "Sixth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo," United nations, Security Council, S/2001/128, February 12, 2001.
72 United Nations, Security Council, Resolution, 1332 (2000), December 14, 2000, paragraph 14.
73 United Nations, 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, paragraphs 73 and 74.
74 Written communication. Human Rights Watch, January, 2001; also United Nations, Sixth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, S/2001/128, February 12, 2001, paragraph 65.
75 United Nations, Security Council, Resolution 1341, February 22, 2001.
76 United Nations press release found at http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/newsroom.
77 United Nations, Security Council, press release concerning the 4176 meeting, July 26, 2000, "Security Council holds debate on children and armed conflict," posted at: http://wwww.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/d2fc8ae9db883867852567cb0083a028/021562a6bc41b078c12569290054f2ed?OpenDocument
78 Human Rights Watch interview, February 2001.
79 European Union, "Declaration of the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on implementation of the Lusaka Agreement," Brussels, September 22, 2000, (press release 311), p. 130/00.
80 European Union, General Affairs, "The Council Discussed the Developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo," Brussels, February 26-27, 2001, (press release 6506/01).
81 See, for example, the testimony of Richard Holbrooke, then U.S. ambassador to the U.N., before the House Subcommittee on Africa of the International Relations Committee, February 15, 2000.
82 See Human Rights Watch, "What Kabila is hiding."
83 United States, Department of State, press statement, August 29, 2000.
84 Information provided to researchers of Refugees International.
85 Written communication of Mr. Garreton to Human Rights Watch, April 30, 2001.
86 Written communication to Human Rights Watch, April 27, 2001.
87 Ibid., Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, May 3, 2001.