Children are uniquely vulnerable to military recruitment and deployment in combat situations because of their emotional and physical immaturity. They are easily manipulated and can be drawn into violence that they are often too young to resist or understand. Children are most likely to become child soldiers if they are poor, separated from their families, displaced from their homes, living in a combat zone, or have limited access to education. It is estimated that approximately one in three child soldiers in Congo is female.119 All parties to the conflict in North Kivu have used children for military service.
As the Congolese government began working to create an integrated national army, Congolese and international workers between 2003 and 2006 identified and removed some 30,000 children from the ranks of both regular military units and other armed groups and returned them to civilian life. Just over 1,400 children were removed from the ranks in North Kivu during the year June 2006 to May 2007.120
The mixage process did not include provisions for the demobilization of combatants or the separation of children. Following extensive advocacy from MONUC and other child protection organizations, including an exchange of letters between MONUCs force commander and the then chief of staff of the Congolese armed forces, Maj. Gen. Kisempia Sungilanga Lombe, an order was finally given to end the illegal use of children in mixed brigades.121 Child protection agencies identified 223 potential children in the first three mixed brigades, of whom they were able to eventually separate 154 from military service.122 As of May 2007 at least 300 child soldiers were still thought to be serving in North Kivu, some as young as 13.123 Children serving in the mixed brigades were deployed in the early 2007 military operations against the FDLR and perhaps against other armed combatants, such as the local groups popularly known as Mai Mai.124
In a report to the UN Security Council in June 2007 the secretary-general stated that the use of children as soldiers continued to be a problem in Congo, and he noted with concern increased recruitment of children in Congo and in Rwanda for service with Nkundas units in early 2007. He urged Rwanda to act immediately to halt the recruitment of children for military service. He remarked that commanders loyal to Nkunda125 and Nkunda himself actively obstructed efforts to remove children from military ranks.126 He called for the arrest of Nkunda and others involved in recruiting and using child soldiers and asked MONUC to assist Congolese authorities in making such arrests, if necessary.127
The secretary-generals findings of the presence of children in mixed brigades confirmed many reports by child protection workers before and during 2006 and 2007.128 In December 2006, for example, two children said they had been recruited by Major Baudouin of the 81st brigade, who is said to be close to Nkunda.129
As already noted (see Chapter IV, Mixage), in early 2007 recruiters for Nkundas units stepped up efforts to find new recruits, children as well as adults, in Congo and in Rwanda. Among 27 children separated from mixed brigades by the end of May 2007, UN workers recorded 11 Congolese children recruited in refugee camps in Rwanda and 16 Rwandan children, 13 recruited in Rwanda and three recruited in Congo.130
According to children who fled or were removed from Nkundas ranks, recruits were sought in Congo in Masisi territory, in Bunagana town, and in Buhambwe, a settlement of persons returned to Congo after having been refugees in Rwanda.131
Inside Rwanda, adults and children were recruited among Congolese refugees housed in two camps under UNHCR supervision at Kiziba and Byumba, as well as in nearby towns. A group known as the Association of Young Congolese Refugees, organized in mid-2006 and active in the camps, actively encouraged Congolese refugee children to return to Congo. Some of these children, like Rwandan adults recruited outside the camps, believed that they were going to North Kivu to take up well-paying civilian jobs.132 In one case reported by MONUC two boys, ages 14 and 16, were recruited in January 2007 by the Association of Young Congolese Refugees, and together with nine other children and 17 adults made the trek to Congo. En route two adult recruits died and these two boys, frightened by the incident, fled to the protection of a MONUC unit.133
UNHCR, aware of the recruitment of adults and children in refugee camps in Rwanda for military service in Congo, raised the issue with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda in March 2006.134 UNHCR raised the issue of child recruitment again in a letter to the Rwandan authorities in April 2007, specifically mentioning cases of children being recruited from the camps to join Nkundas forces in North Kivu.135 By May 2007 at least 12 children recruited in 2006 and early 2007 had returned to the camps with the assistance of child protection agencies and had been reunited with their families, providing clear evidence that recruitment had occurred.136
When Human Rights Watch and others raised the issue publicly in April 2007, authorities dismissed the allegation that children were being recruited in Rwanda for military service in Congo. Commenting on a Human Rights Watch press release on this subject, President Kagame was said to have told journalists, Some of these organizations seem to come up with reports on Rwanda after they have probably consumed drugs. There is nothing sensible from these people about Rwanda.137
Despite such denials, Rwandan officials agreed to visit the refugee camps on two occasions in May and June with UNHCR officials. On one of these visits theRwandan government official told an audience of refugees that military recruitment in the camps was illegal. Diplomats in Kigali who raised concerns with Rwandan government officials about the recruitment were told privately that such recruitment might be occurring but that it was difficult to control.138 By the end of July UNHCR and the Rwandan government had agreed on a plan to improve the monitoring systems in the camps and to warn refugees about the dangers of recruitment.139
With renewed fighting in August 2007, more children were recruited into military service. In September UNICEF reported the forced recruitment of dozens of children in parts of North Kivu, though it was not clear which groups were carrying out the recruitment.140
The nationwide reorganization and demobilization effort, mentioned above, ran out of funds in 2007, considerably slowing efforts to remove children from military ranks.141 Despite this generally unfavorable background elsewhere in Congo, the mixage process in North Kivu should still have provided an opportunity to identify and remove children from military service and to ensure that they not be simply transferred from existing units to the newly created mixed brigades. But because officers in charge failed to verify the age of candidates rigorously and because some Nkunda-affiliated officers obstructed the removal of those who were identified, relatively few children were actually removed from the ranks. In addition, as mentioned above, Nkunda supporters saw the mixage process as an opportunity to swell their ranks with new recruits, scores of whom were children.
Military officers and leaders of armed bands have long resisted efforts to identify children and remove them from the ranks, largely because they find the children useful in both combat and non-combat situations.
On several occasions Nkunda-affiliated officers used force to prevent the removal of children from their ranks, or to try to get them back into military service once they had been removed. In June 2006 soldiers under Nkundas command ambushed a minibus carrying recently demobilized child soldiers. They initially held some of them hostage in an effort to persuade them to return to military service. After the hostages had been released and sent to Goma, soldiers from the 83rd brigade abducted two of the children and offered each of them US$20 plus a promotion to rejoin the army.142
On July 26, 2006, soldiers from the 81st brigade under the command of Nkunda killed Alphonse Batibwira, an NGO child protection agent in Kibaki, Masisi, as he was working to remove children from military service.143 Following an investigation, General Kisempia issued an arrest warrant on January 30, 2007, for Captain Gaston, an officer of the 81st brigade, but no action was taken and Captain Gaston remains at large.144
On March 22, 2007, Bravo brigade commander Colonel Makenga tried to forcibly prevent child protection workers from removing eight children from the military camp at Kitchanga. According to witnesses he dragged six children from the vehicle of the child protection workers and beat two other children who resisted his efforts to get them out. Colonel Makenga called the child protection workers dogs and threatened to beat them as well. Three of the six children he had taken back later escaped and found refuge with the United Nations peacekeepers; the other three were unaccounted for at this writing.145
On another occasion officers in mixed brigades impeded child protection workers from verifying the age of candidates for mixage who appeared to be under 18. According to a staff member of a Congolese NGO involved in child protection, UNICEF workers were interrupted in their work and almost taken hostage. He also heard a military officer tell a child who had just declared himself to be 14 years old to say that he was really 20. Of the 85 children identified that day, none was immediately removed from military service.146
As part of their effort to keep children in their service, some of Nkundas former officers hid underage combatants from child protection workers in camps at Itebero and Kabati, Masisi. Three children who escaped from Kabati and came under MONUC protection told MONUC staff that Colonel Baudouin (second in command of Charlie Brigade) had given orders that they be hidden.147 Another child, age 17, forcibly recruited into military service at age 14 and an active participant in combat at Nyanzale and Rutshuru, told a Human Rights Watch researcher that he had been taken by army truck to Nkundas compound after having been registered in the mixage process at Mweso. He said,
After having one day received $5 in pay, this child and another said they were going to buy soap but they then fled to a Congolese NGO in Kitchanga whose staff delivered the children to MONUC.149
With international attention to the problem of child soldiers growing, FARDC then Chief of Staff General Kisempia, Land Forces Commander Gen. Gabriel Amisi, then Air Force Commander Gen. John Numbi, and then Commander of the 8th military region Gen. Ngizo Siatilo Louis on February 14, 2007, informed all officers of the mixed brigades that they would be held responsible for the continued military service of any children and that the presence of children in their ranks was illegal.150
The order was not widely obeyed. At an April 11 press conference, MONUC urged the brigade commanders to respect national and international law as well as the orders of their superior officers concerning demobilizing children. As of the end of May, 154 children had been separated from the mixed brigades but child protection workers knew of at least 200 more still in Nkundas ranks.151 In addition, UN sources said that children were still being recruited through the month of May.
Other armed groups active in North Kivu are known to be still using children as combatants, but there are no reliable figures on the numbers involved. Those who manage to escape occasionally deliver information about numbers of children and their conditions of service, but such information is, of course, patchy. For example, on May 13, 2007, the Congolese army arrested an 11-year-old boy who claimed to have been a commander in a local Mai Mai militia group operating in the Virundo area of North Kivu. The boy claimed a further 100 children were present in this group.152 Six other boys, ages 14 to 17, fled from a separate group of Mai Mai in February. They escaped after the Mai Mai had engaged in a skirmish with Congolese army brigades and they fled to safety with MONUC troops based in Kiwanja.153
The FDLR have also continued to recruit, abduct, and use children in its ranks. One 15-year-old Rwandan boy who escaped from the FDLR in March after having participated in fighting against the Bravo brigade in Rutshuru told UN workers that there were five other children in his group.154 The UN secretary general commented in his October 2006 report on children in armed conflict, that the FDLR had been responsible for abductions of children for use in military service.155 The secretary general had previously listed the FDLR in his reports of 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2006 as a group responsible for recruiting and using child soldiers in violation of international standards.156
Those children who are able to escape from armed groups sometimes faced renewed abuses by Congolese army soldiers who beat, detain, harass, or otherwise threaten children demobilized from other armed groups in order to obtain information from them. In one case recounted to Human Rights Watch in July 2007, two young boys who had recently fled from Nkundas ranks were detained for weeks in a military prison near Goma where they were allegedly beaten for information on Nkundas forces.157
119 UNICEF, Child Alert Democratic Republic of Congo: Martin Bell Reports on Children Caught in War, July 2006, http://www.unicef.org/childalert/drc/content/Child_Alert_DRC_en.pdf (accessed August 28, 2007), p. 4.
120 UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, S/2007/391, June 28, 2007, paras 54, 57. Figures for children removed from the ranks in North Kivu for the entire period 2003-06 are not available.
121 Telegram from FARDC chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Kisempia Sungilanga Lombe, the Land Forces commander, Gen. Gabriel Amisi, the Air Force commander, Gen. Jean Numbi, and the commander of the 8th military region, Gen. Ngizo Siatilo Louis, to all brigade commanders of the mixed brigades, February 14, 2007, document viewed by Human Rights Watch researcher.
122 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para 56.
123 Human Rights Watch interview with MONUC child protection officer (name withheld), Goma, May 10, 2007.
124 Local communities organized groups of combatants, known as Mai Mai, to defend themselves against threatening military forces during the Congo wars. Since the end of the second war, some groups of combatants have been integrated into the national army but others continue to operate autonomously, sometimes preying on neighboring communities.
125 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para 22.
126 Ibid., paras 22, 23, 29, 74.
127 Ibid., para. 72.
128 Human Rights Watch interview with child protection worker (name withheld), Goma, February 7, 2007.
129 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para. 23.
130 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para. 22.
131 Ibid., para. 23.
132 Human Rights Watch interviews with MONUC child protection officer (name withheld), Goma, August 7, 2006, and with child protection official (name withheld), Kigali, July 25, 2007.
133 MONUC child protection report viewed by Human Rights Watch, February 2007.
134 Human Rights Watch interview with UNHCR official (name withheld), Kigali, February 12, 2007.
135 Letter from Annette Rita Nyekan, UNHCR representative, Kigali, to Mr. Balikana Augene, secretary general, MINALOC, Kigali, April 4, 2007.
136 Human Rights Watch interview with child protection official (name withheld), Kigali, July 25, 2007.
137 Kagame Castigates Human Rights Watch, Rwanda News Agency, April 20, 2007, http://www.rwandagateway.org/article.php3?id_article=5169 (accessed June 7, 2007).
138 Human Rights Watch interviews with foreign diplomats, Kigali, July 24-26, 2007.
139 Human Rights Watch interview with UNHCR representative (name withheld), Kigali, July 25, 2007.
140 Fighting in DR Congo exposes children to forced recruitment, exploitation UN, UN News, September 19, 2007, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=23860&Cr=dr&Cr1=congo (accessed September 27, 2007).
141 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para. 54..
142 Ibid., para. 28. Human Rights Watch interview with MONUC child protection officer (name withheld), Goma, August 7, 2006.
143 MONUC, Human Rights Weekly Assessment 22 28 July, 2006, July 30, 2006.
144 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para. 18.
145 Human Rights Watch interviews with child protection officers (names withheld), April-May 2007. See also Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para. 28.; and DR Congo: Army Should Stop Use of Child Soldiers, Human Rights Watch news release, April 19, 2007, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/04/19/congo15732.htm.
146 Human Rights Watch interview with local NGO worker (name withheld), Goma, February 1, 2007.
147 Human Rights Watch interview with MONUC child protection officer (name withheld), Goma, June 8, 2007.
148 Human Rights Watch interview with former child soldier (name withheld), Goma, May 25, 2007.
149 Human Rights Watch interview with former child soldiers (names withheld), Goma, May 25, 2007.
150 Telegram from FARDC chief of staff and the Land Forces, Air Force, and 8th military region commanders to all brigade commanders of the mixed brigades, February 14, 2007.
151 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para. 56.
152 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para. 33.
153 MONUC child protection report viewed by Human Rights Watch, February 2007.
154 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para. 31.
155 UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, s/2006/826, October 26, 2006.
156 UN: Security Council Must Punish Users of Child Soldiers, Human Rights Watch news release, November 27, 2006, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/11/27/global14664.htm.
157 Human Rights Watch interview, child protection worker (name withheld), Goma, July 2007. See also Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007, para. 31.