New York- Children continued to bear the brunt of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and were victims of over 11,500 grave violations committed by [more than] 40 parties to the conflict verified by the United Nations between 2014 and 2017. This is the conclusion of the sixth report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the DRC [S/2018/502], which also states that this represents a 60% increase in grave violations compared to the previous reporting period, covering the years 2010 to 2013.
“Children’s vulnerabilities to all six grave violations were accentuated by the multiplicity and fragmentation of armed groups, persistent armed conflict in the East and new waves of violence including of a growing inter-ethnic character, notably in the Kasais, Tanganyika and other eastern provinces, and the weakness or absence of state authority on large swathes of the Congolese territory,” said Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
Nationwide, over 1,000 children were killed and maimed during the reporting period, often in the most brutal way and increasingly on the basis on their ethnicity, twice as many as between 2010 and 2013, with hundreds of reported incidents that remain to be verified in the Kasaïs and in the Tanganyika province. Although the report attributed the majority of casualties to armed groups, a third were committed by the Congolese security forces over the period under review, and 49% in 2017 alone. The Secretary-General expressed concerns about the “increase in the number of children killed and maimed by the national security forces, including through the disproportionate use of force and targeting of children in the Kasaïs.”
During the reporting period, the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) put in place measures to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in their ranks within the framework of the Action Plan signed by the Government of the DRC and the UN in 2012. In 2017, the FARDC were delisted from the annexes of the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict for this violation, but the sections of the Action Plan related to ending and preventing sexual violence against children remain under implementation.
“We cannot underestimate the importance of this achievement and I now strongly encourage the Government to redouble its efforts to curb sexual violence against children,” declared Virginia Gamba. “Continuing to work together with the Government will be key to give every child in Congo the chance to grow up in peace and protected from the effects of conflict.”
Despite this progress, large scale recruitment and use of children by armed groups continued unabated. A third of the children recruited and used during the reporting period were under the age of 15 at the time of their recruitment. The proportion of children used as combatants increased to nearly 50% in 2017, and it is estimated that children were the majority in the ranks of Kamuina Nsapu, a group active in the Kasais. This group reportedly sent girls as young as four to the frontlines to act as human shields, spurred by the belief that magical powers made them invincible. Children were also used by some of the armed groups to commit atrocities.
The United Nations verified the cases of over 7,700 children separated from armed forces and groups during the reporting period. Of those, over 1,500 had been separated in the past and re-recruited by the same or other armed groups, highlighting the vulnerability of children who were released but only accessed basic short-term reintegration assistance with no longer term support, had self-demobilized or had escaped from armed groups to re-recruitment.
“This again illustrates the importance of providing adequate comprehensive and long-term reintegration opportunities for children and to enable them to learn skills to rebuild their lives away from conflict. Currently, in DR Congo, lack of funding is preventing thousands of children from getting access to these essential services,” said the Special Representative.
The report documented close to 900 cases of sexual violence against children committed by all parties to the conflict, while acknowledging that the scale of this violation is believed to be under-reported, due to the fear of stigma, as well as lack of adequate services for survivors. Rape, forced marriage and sexual slavery often occurred in the context of other violations, such as recruitment and use or abduction, and were frequently linked to inter-ethnic violence. Of grave concern, rape has reportedly been used as a tactic of war in the inter-ethnic retaliatory violence between Twa and Luba communities in the Tanganyika province.
Fighting impunity remains essential to protect the country’s children and the report highlighted progress in measures taken by the Congolese authorities to promote accountability, in particular for cases of crimes of sexual violence against children. The Special Representative noted however that convictions for child recruitment remain rare and calls for more systematic investigations and prosecutions of alleged perpetrators of all grave violations against children.
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For additional information, please contact:
Fabienne Vinet/ Stephanie Tremblay, Communications Officer
Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General
for Children and Armed Conflict