Since April 2012, UN human rights officers in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have evidence of over 100 civilians forcibly recruited by the M23 rebel armed group led by army deserters in the North Kivu province. Reports indicate that numbers could be substantially higher.
“After fighting the Congolese army, the advancing M23 armed group conquered the town. The inhabitants fled into the bush to hide. I was amongst a group of 13 young men captured by M23 soldiers wearing uniforms and armed with AK47s and rocket launchers. We were bound and forced to follow the combatants on foot all night to a training camp many kilometres away,” recalls Thomas, a twenty year old university student.
“There were already 250 people in the camp when we arrived. I underwent military training for one month. Then, one afternoon whilst we were foraging for food, I managed to escape two guards and fled into the bush. It took me seven days to reach a MONUSCO base to seek help”.
The majority of the cases documented by the UN Human Rights Office over the past four months involve youth aged 24 and younger. Child Protection officers from the UN Mission to the DRC (MONUSCO) report children as young as 13 being recruited into the ranks of the M23. They are made to serve either as porters, transporting food, weapons and ammunition by foot, or as soldiers. There are also multiple reports of civilians resisting recruitment being executed.
One boy interviewed described how the children in the camp were severely beaten with sticks on a daily basis for so-called ‘training purposes’; many ended up in critical condition as a result of these beatings. When a boy tried to escape, he was allegedly shot through each of his thighs as a warning to the other children.
The practice of forced recruitment has long been used by many of the armed groups active in the DRC including local Mayi Mayi elements, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Lord’s Resistance Army. However the substantial increase in the number of cases documented by human rights officers in North Kivu since the upsurge of recent hostilities between the M23 and the Congolese armed forces is a cause for grave concern, notes the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
“The abduction of a civilian to serve within the ranks of an armed group is a gross violation of their human rights,” stressed Pillay. “Moreover, the impact goes beyond the individual – in the DRC forced recruitment has ripped families apart and caused others to flee in the face of advancing combatants, fearful that their sons will be captured. The practice must end immediately, and those responsible held accountable.”
10 August 2012