Congolese Rebels Accused of Drafting Children

Child Labour News Service Press Release, 5 June 2001

New Delhi—The major rebel group in eastern Congo continues to recruit children to wage war against the Congolese government, Human Rights Watch charged in its latest report.

The report, Reluctant Recruits: Children and Adults Forcibly Recruited for Military Service in North Kivu, details recruitment efforts since late 2000 by the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma) and the Rwandan army troops who support it. RCD-Goma has repeatedly pledged to demobilise its child soldiers, but has not fulfilled these promises, the report says.

Children are being abducted and sent to battle by the very soldiers who are supposed to protect them, said Alison Des Forges, Senior Adviser to the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. RCD-Goma must live up to its agreements to end this terrible practice.

As part of the 1999 Lusaka Accords, RCD-Goma agreed to halt the use of children as soldiers. In May 2000, RCD-Goma said it would create a commission to supervise demobilisation of child soldiers, but a year later the commission is not functioning effectively.

In the early months of the recruitment campaign, RCD-Goma soldiers and their Rwandan allies simply abducted children and young men who were sent for military training and later service in the rebel forces. Recruiters picked up children on their way to school or church. In some cases, they raided homes, taking away anyone who might be made into a soldier.

Following critical comment from international observers, RCD-Goma moved recruiting efforts further from urban centres, making it harder to document their activities. They are also increasingly using promises of rewards to enrol poor and hungry children who lacked other sources of support.

According to observers on the spot, trucks are still rolling through Goma, transporting children to military camps in the Congo and even to Rwanda for training, said Des Forges. This is bad news, both for those children and for hopes for peace in the Congo.

The Rebels denied these accusations. We do not recruit children, Congolese Rally for Democracy (CRD) spokesman Kin Key Mulumba said. The only child soldiers in areas controlled by the CRD are those of the Kinshasa-backed Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) who were made prisoners by our forces and are now undergoing re-education, said Mulumba.