Kinshasa, 7 August 2012 – The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) expressed deep concern today over growing evidence of forced recruitment of civilians by the M23 for both combat and non-combat purposes.
“Whilst forced recruitment by various armed groups has long characterised conflict in the DRC, numbers have increased substantially since the upsurge of recent hostilities in the east, and in particular the actions of the M23 in Rutshuru territory, North-Kivu Province”, said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MONUSCO, Roger Meece.
“Using children and youth in armed conflict will create generations trained in violence, tearing apart the fabric of Congolese society”, Mr.Meece underscored, calling on the M23 and all other armed groups to immediately stop this inhuman practice.
Over 100 cases have been documented of civilians – most of them aged 24 years and younger, including 26 children – who were forcibly recruited by the M23 since April 2012. Reports, however, indicate the total number might be significantly higher. Individuals interviewed described how they were forced to carry looted goods, supplies and ammunition over long distances. Upon arrival at the destination, they were handed uniforms and weapons and underwent military training in camps. There are also reports of civilians resisting recruitment being executed
The children and youth who have been recruited by armed groups are at risk of re-recruitment and stigma, should they be sent back to areas still under the control of armed groups. The priority is to get them home and reunited with their families, regardless of their nationality. Mr.Meece also called on identified perpetrators to be prosecuted by Congolese authorities.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 150children were recruited by armed groups in the east of the country, by the M23 and other armed groups such as Mayi-Mayi elements, the Forces Démocratiques de Liberation du Rwanda, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Since January 2012, MONUSCO, along with local partners, has secured the separation of 194 boys and 21 girls from armed forces and groups. Adults having escaped from these groups have also benefited from MONUSCO’s disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes in order to resume civilian life.
Under international law - notably the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as well as to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which the Government of the DRC is party - conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 constitutes a war crime whilst non-state armed groups are forbidden from recruiting anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose whether voluntary or involuntary.