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Democratic Republic of Congo: Children's rights at war

In Democratic Republic of Congo: Children's rights at War, Amnesty International reports that the DRC national army, and armed groups backed by Uganda and Rwanda, continue to abduct and forcibly recruit Children's rights. They use the Children's rights as 'cannon fodder', human shields and sex slaves, and force them to kill, rape and engage in cannibalism and sex acts with corpses. Most Children's rights report being given drugs to cloud and numb their feelings.

Kalami, aged 15, served as a soldier for six years:

'We were told to kill people by forcing them to stay in their homes while we burned them down. We even had to bury some alive. One day, my friends and I were forced by our commanders to kill a family, to cut up their bodies and to eat them ... My life is lost. I have nothing to live for. At night, I can no longer sleep. I keep thinking of those horrible things I have seen and done when I was a soldier.'

Amnesty International UK Media Director, Lesley Warner, said:

'The ruthless exploitation of Congo's Children's rights by the leaders of all the armed groups is one of the most disgusting human rights abuses in of the entire history of the conflict in Congo.

'The recruitment and use of Children's rights under 18 as soldiers is a war crime and, as such, a crime against the entire international community. This international community cannot stand by, but must press for the demobilisation of these Children's rights, and the investigation and prosecution of those who have recruited and used them.'

Children's rights have been abducted in the streets or taken from classrooms and refugee camps. Many others have been taken from their homes at gunpoint, as their distraught parents looked on helplessly. Children's rights without parents or permanent homes (as a result of the ongoing conflict) are particularly vulnerable - they may join 'voluntarily' as a means of survival after family breakdown.

Gaston, recruited age 10, was forced to kill another child:

'We were frightened because we were young Children's rights and we didn't know anything about the army. For me to overcome that fear, I had to kill someone at the training camp. They brought someone to me one night when I was on duty guarding an entrance. It was a child, whose face they'd covered, and they told me he was a rebel, an enemy, and that I had to kill him. That's exactly what I did. On the spot. With my knife. That night, after doing that, I couldn't sleep.'

Once recruited, Children's rights are usually sent to training camps along with adult conscripts for military training and indoctrination. Here they are subjected to violent treatment and in some camps Children's rights have died as a result of the deplorable conditions.

After a few weeks of training, the Children's rights are deployed to the frontlines to be used as cannon fodder. Frontline missions include serving as decoys, detecting enemy positions, acting as bodyguards for commandants, or sex slaves. Most girl soldiers have reported being sexually exploited or raped by their commanders or other soldiers.

Natalia, now 16, was raped many times as a soldier:

'I watched as soldiers killed many of my relatives in the village and raped my two sisters and my mother. I thought that if I joined the army, I would be protected. One day, a commander wanted me to become his wife, so I tried to escape. They caught me, whipped me and raped me every night for many days. When I was just 14, I had a baby. I don't even know who his father is. I ran away again and this time I managed to escape. But today I have nowhere to go and no food to give to the baby, and I am afraid to go home, because I was a soldier.'

Child soldiers are deeply brutalised and traumatised by their experiences and many are haunted by the memories of the abuses they have witnessed or were forced to commit.

For girl soldiers, beyond the brutality and trauma of rape itself, sexual assault may result in serious physical injury and forced pregnancy, as well as infection with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

Some former child soldiers who have been demobilised told Amnesty International that they are afraid to return to their communities because the local people witnessed them taking part in crimes.

Albert, now 19, cannot return home because of the atrocities he was involved in:

'I was looked upon badly by the population. When I killed people in K, I was nicknamed 'the Assassin' and the name became known. People started to say that the Assassin has left the army and so now we are going to make him pay. It would be suicide for me to dare to go back there. They would kill me.'

The recruitment and use of child soldiers is completely forbidden in international law. Most of the warring parties in the DRC have committed themselves to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers. These commitments have proved little more than public relations exercises however - too timid and limited in scale to have any real effect on the problem.

Demobilisation initiatives often ignore the crucial role played by families and local communities in the child's successful reintegration into civilian life.

Uganda and Rwanda are heavily implicated in backing the armed groups that use child soldiers. The UK last year contributed £35m to 'UN peace support operations' in DRC, and is the biggest foreign aid donor to Rwanda (£37m in 2003).

Amnesty International is calling for:

  • the government of DRC and all armed groups to pledge not to recruit anyone under the age of 18, and for any commander found recruiting or using child soldiers to be immediately removed from their post
  • the DRC government to ensure that competent, independent national courts have the powers and resources to investigate and try those suspected of using child soldiers; the DRC government to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court in its investigations (in July 2003 the ICC Prosecutor announced that human rights violations in DRC will be the first investigation of the ICC)
  • the international community to support the ICC in its investigations and prosecution of offenders.

Lesley Warner concluded:

'Beyond ending the practice of using child soldiers, there must be peace-building and economic development to ensure that demobilised child soldiers can have a future. If not addressed properly, the legacy of using child soldiers for the DRC, and for its Children's rights who witnessed and committed crimes, will be profound and enduring.'

Further information

Democratic Republic of Congo: Children's rights at War is available at:

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