Countries Africa DRC: Child protection must be a priority LONDON, 10 December 2012 – The events currently taking place in eastern Congo not only demonstrate a serious lack of resources allocated to the protection of civilians, but also a worrying decline in the protection and rights of children in the region. Following renewed violence, children find themselves exposed to a much higher risk of military exploitation by the so-called “M23” and other armed groups in the region, as well as by the Congolese armed forces (the FARDC). Any attempt to resolve the conflict should put forward tangible measures designed to ensure the effective protection of children. The progression of the M23 towards Goma and Sake in November was accompanied by a range of serious human rights violations, particularly in North Kivu, in a context of generalized lawlessness. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights denounced “systematic violations” citing “killings, abductions, torture and destruction of private property”. During this period, many UN agencies and NGOs based in the east reported that dozens of civilians – including children – were killed or wounded in clashes between the FARDC and the M23. Tens of thousands of people – including thousands of children – have been displaced by this latest offensive and hundreds of children are reported to have been separated from their families. In addition, an increase in sexual violence and looting by armed forces and groups against this terrorized population has been reported. During this breakdown of the rule of law, “children have been killed and injured in the cross-fire, deliberately targeted and allegedly recruited as soldiers,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, on 21 November. Child Soldiers International is seriously concerned about the failure of mechanisms that were meant to protect civilians against this new outburst of armed violence, which was entirely predictable. It is also worrying to see that as a result of these events, some groups find themselves in even more precarious situations: some displaced populations were displaced again, and assistance programs for vulnerable people were interrupted for an indefinite period of time – including reintegration programs for children released from armed forces and armed groups. These developments increase the vulnerability of children to violence and exploitation. “Children, especially those formerly associated with armed groups, are living in constant fear of recruitment or re-recruitment,” said the Special Representative. It is the responsibility of the Congolese government and MONUSCO to ensure the protection of civilians and guarantee respect for the rights of children, especially when they are most threatened. Parties to the conflict must comply with international humanitarian law and thereby prevent the recruitment or use of children in the conduct of hostilities. In addition, Child Soldiers International reiterates its concern about the security vacuum affecting some areas of the country, particularly in Masisi, where the redeployment of FARDC to contain the M23 has given free rein to many armed groups. In these areas, there is a marked increase in violations perpetrated against civilians, including child recruitment. It is important to recall that in October 2012 the Congolese government and the United Nations signed an Action Plan by which they formally and jointly agreed to: Prevent child recruitment and other grave violations of children's rights perpetrated by the armed forces and security forces; Obtain the adherence of non-state armed groups to the principles of the Action Plan; Promptly investigate all allegations of recruitment and sexual violence against children in order to prosecute alleged perpetrators. In addition, in its fight against the M23, the government should refrain from providing any military or political support to armed groups and militias suspected of recruiting and using child soldiers. Child Soldiers International also demands that an independent and impartial investigation be conducted following credible reports of military support of Rwanda and Uganda to the M23, with a view to bring to justice those who could be responsible for aiding and abetting human rights violations committed by the M23. ------------------ References: IRIN, “DRC: Civilian population in Masisi at risk”, 27 November 2012. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, “Children affected by widespread violence in the eastern DRC”, 21 November 2012. UN news, “The advance of the M23 is creating a disastrous humanitarian situation in eastern DRC, warns the UN”, 20 November 2012 (in French). Child Soldiers International: “In its management of the security crisis, the DRC must not lose sight of the rights of children”, 19 September 2012.