DRC: Concern over conscription of children, human rights abuses in North Kivu

Monday, December 17, 2007

Insurgents loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda, fighting government troops in North Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are still recruiting children into their ranks, even as serious human rights violations, including some committed by agents of the state, are rife in the region, according to the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC).

"Forced recruitment [of children] took place outside schools, especially in the village of Burungu, when students returned to their homes, causing many to flee into the bush," Kemal Saiki, MONUC's spokesman, told reporters on 12 December.

In some cases, demobilised, underage former fighters are being re-recruited, according to the spokesman, who cited the case of 20 children who had rejoined Nkunda's ranks in the North Kivu village of Kirambu.

He expressed concern over cases of serious abuses, including rape, summary executions, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and arbitrary arrests that continue to be reported every day throughout the country, despite an improvement in the overall human rights record since the signing in 2003 of a peace agreement designed to end civil war in DRC.

"Every month, hundreds of women and girls continue to be victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence in all provinces of the DRC," said Saiki.

"The main perpetrators of human rights abuses are no longer armed groups [ie. non-government forces], but mainly agents of the state, whose mandate is to ensure the protection of the Congolese population," he added.

He noted that those serving in the police and the army worked and lived under difficult conditions but stressed this was no excuse for such acts and the culture of impunity that accompanied them.

Reiterating the seriousness of sexual violence, Saiki said that 2,656 cases were recorded in North Kivu between January and October 2007, while 4,500 cases were reported in South Kivu during the first half of 2007.

"The figures reflect only a tiny fraction of the very many victims who generally prefer to remain silent instead of asking for help because they are traumatised, face stigmatisation by their families and communities or are at risk of retaliation from perpetrators," he said.

On the raging warfare between Nkunda's forces and government troops in North Kivu, Saiki said MONUC would continue to provide support to the national army in an effort to save the lives of civilians in positions held by insurgents.

"Despite the temporary setback by the Congolese army during the past 48 hours in the region of Mushake, the town of Sake is still held by MONUC peacekeepers. We are providing assistance to the Forces armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) so that they can handle the situation and consolidate their positions in other areas of North Kivu," he added.

Nkunda's troops have regained control of Mushake in eastern North Kivu, which they had lost to government forces less than a week earlier.

In a related development, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the escalation of violence in North Kivu, noting that civilians were bearing the brunt of the fighting through massive displacement and mistreatment.

"The United Nations is working closely with the government of the DRC and with others to help bring peace and security to this troubled region," a statement issued by Ban's spokesperson on 12 December said. "The Secretary-General calls on the forces of Laurent Nkunda to lay down their arms."

Nkunda has, meanwhile, reportedly expressed willingness to hold talks with the government in a bid to stop the fighting.

"We need to negotiate. We call for the opening of discussions with the government," Rene Abandi, spokesman for Nkunda's group, told AFP news agency on 12 December.

Source: IRIN