Reports indicated that the practice of recruiting children as young as 15 into the Rwandese Defence Forces had stopped, although some children remained in the army. While the Rwandese government argued that these children worked as servants, some had an army number indicating that they were soldiers.211 Children, some as young as 14, were still reportedly recruited into Local Defence Forces (LDF), government-organized militias, which patrolled their home areas without pay after receiving arms and brief training.212 LDF assisted the Rwandese Army in skirmishes with armed opposition groups in Rwanda and the DRC.213 Despite national legislation prohibiting recruitment under 18, local officials regularly called up youth, including under-18s.214 With rising tensions between Uganda and Rwanda, LDF recruitment drives increased, heightening the risk of under-age recruitment.215
In 2002 Rwandese involvement in the continued recruitment of children in eastern Congo was highlighted by the large number of children in demobilization centres who spoke only Kinyarwanda.216 The armed wing of the Rassemblement congolais pour la Démocratie-Goma (RCD-Goma), supported by the government of Rwanda, confirmed to a United Nations (UN) officer in early 2003 that it had been recruiting children into its ranks.217 According to the same source, the RCD-Goma led campaigns, including in local schools, to encourage enlistment by children and youth from January 2003.218 The RCD-Goma actively recruited demobilized child soldiers formerly with the Mai-Mai.219 Many RCD-Goma commanders and authorities used child soldiers as their personal guards. Reliable reports indicated that the splinter groups RCD-National and RCD-Kisangani-Mouvement de libération also continued to recruit and use children, with recent reports indicating that 20 to 25 per cent of the troops are children.220 The Mudundu 40, backed by the Government of Rwanda, was composed of up to 40 per cent child soldiers, according to credible sources.221
Thousands of Rwandese children accused of participation in the genocide were held in detention until their release on bail in January 2003. Under the Rwandan criminal code children below the age of 14 at the time the crime was committed cannot be held legally responsible for their actions. However, many under 14s were held in detention following the genocide.222 Children in local detention centres (cachots) were often subjected to ill treatment and not segregated from adults.223
In the gacaca process (community-based system of justice) still underway, youths who were between 14 and 18 at the time the crimes were committed received half the sentence imposed on adults. Many of these detainees should have been subject to immediate and unconditional release since they had already served eight or more years, more than half the maximum 15-year sentence for adults convicted of lesser crimes during the genocide. There were some concerns that the gacaca process did not comply with international juvenile justice standards embodied in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Rwandese armed opposition groups operating in the DRC reportedly continued to recruit and use children there. These groups included the former Forces armées rwandaises (ex-FAR) and Rwandese interhamwe.224 It was difficult to determine the numbers of children in armed groups, particularly as not many children returned to Rwanda after refugee camps in Eastern Zaire (now DRC) were dismantled in late 1996. Since 1998, Hutu militias reportedly targeted children in north-western Rwanda for recruitment.225 Some children were forcibly recruited by armed groups; others joined ‘voluntarily’ because they had no family or financial support. Their ages varied between 11 and 14 years. When first recruited they were mostly used as porters, spies or cooks. After brief training they become active soldiers.226
Demobilization and child protection programs
Several hundred children captured in skirmishes against armed opposition groups were demobilized and reintegrated through the Multi Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP). In June 2003, reports indicated that due to the recent withdrawal of Rwandese troops from the DRC, more than 2000 child soldiers could be returning to Rwanda.227 Some children said they would not claim the benefits of returnees, fearing that their identification as former child soldiers would provoke retribution within their communities. The precarious socio-economic situation in Rwanda increased the risks of children being re-recruited by armed groups in other countries, or given hazardous jobs as a means to support their families. This was particularly problematic in the context of judicial processes underway for people accused of genocide, many of whom left their children in charge of households while in detention.228
An evaluation of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program by Save the Children-UK in 2003 highlighted the following shortcomings: 1) children stayed too long in the solidarity centre before moving to a rehabilitation centre; 2) children's medical needs were not adequately addressed; 3) children were not actively involved in the process; 4) children did not receive the same reintegration support packages as adults; 5) there was insufficient co-ordination between key governmental bodies involved in DDR; and 6) children were not segregated from adults at the solidarity centre.229
Very few girls had undergone formal processes for demobilization, highlighting gender issues which should be addressed by the DDR program.230
211 Information received from Amnesty International, 27 June 2003.
212 Human Rights Watch, Annual Report, 2001.
213 Human Rights Watch, “Lasting Wounds: Consequences of Genocide and War on Rwanda’s Children”, March 2003; Information received from Amnesty International, 27 June 2003.
214 Human Rights Watch, “Lasting Wounds: Consequences of Genocide and War on Rwanda’s Children”, March 2003.
215 Information received from Amnesty International, 27 June 2003; Human Rights Watch, “Lasting Wounds: Consequences of Genocide and War on Rwanda’s Children”, March 2003.
216 Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (Coalition) interviews, Goma, 18 June 2002.
217 Confidential report from UN officer, 27 March 2003.
218 Confidential report from UN officer, 27 March 2003; Reports from Coalition members
219 Information received from credible Coalition sources, 2 February 2003.
220 Information received from Coalition members, June 2003.
221 GRAM, Press Release, 21 April 2003; Confidential report from UN officer, 29 April 2003.
222 US State Department, Human Rights Report, 2000.
223 Information supplied by Amnesty international; Matloff, J., "Rwanda’s bind: trying children for genocide", Christian Science Monitor, 28/1/97.
224 Information received from Coalition members in Burundi and DRC, March 2003 and June 2003.
225 SC-Sweden, Children of War, 03/01.
226 Gervais Abayeho, Coalition, 1999.
227 Information received from Save the Children, 12 June 2003.
228 Information received from Save the Children, 12 June 2003.
229 Information received from Save the Children, 30 June 2003, based on unpublished evaluation.
230 Information received from Save the Children and Amnesty International, June 2003.