Friday, 20 January 2012 11:38

Committee on the Rights of the Child examines report of Democratic Republic of Congo on children involved in armed conflict

 

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on how that country is implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children involved in armed conflict.


Marie-Therese Kenge Ngomba Tshilombayi, Cabinet Director at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the rights of children had been seriously harmed during the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which millions of people had been killed. However tireless efforts were being carried out to ensure that children had full access to all of their rights, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was among the few countries that had not only ratified the Convention but also its two Optional Protocols. Children were present among the troops, but they were not recruited by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but rather by armed groups resisting the peace process. Together with international organizations the Government had removed over 30,000 children from armed groups. The National Bureau on the Demobilization of Child Soldiers was in operation and enforced enrolment of children under the age of 18 no longer happened. A person guilty of enrolling a child into a military organization could be punished with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years.

Yanghee Lee, Committee Rapporteur for the report, commended legislative reform including the Child Protection Act of 2009, Ratification of the Central African Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons and endorsement of the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment by armed forces. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had the highest number of children used and recruited by armed groups and the national military force of any country in the world. One in seven children died before the age of five, half of all children under five suffered from stunted development, the Democratic Republic of the Congo ranked 168 on the global corruption index and there was concern over the continued decrease of resources allocated to social sectors while 30 per cent of State expenditure was on defence. Ms. Lee also expressed serious concern about continued impunity for senior military commanders.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Lee said she was convinced that the State party was fully aware of the issues. Some preliminary recommendations would be the priority of bringing all persons accused of committing crimes under the Protocol to justice, and ensuring that no children were recruited or used in armed conflict. The State party must ensure that all children in the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were released and received sufficient psychosocial services. They should also ensure that military tribunals systematically transferred cases involving children under 18 years of age to civilian jurisdictions.

In concluding remarks, Sebastian Mutomb Mujing, Chargé d’Affaires of the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Geneva, thanked the Committee for their relevant questions and welcome advice, and said he hoped that by the next session they would be able to describe tangible progress in implementing the Optional Protocol.

In concluding remarks, Jean Zermatten, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their clarifications and answers. The meeting would lead to recommendations, and the Committee expected that those recommendations would be taken into account and disseminated, and that the situation of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would improve.

The delegation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo included representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Ministry of Women, Families and Children, the Ministry of Defence and of the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 3 February 2012.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 19 January when the Committee will consider the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Myanmar (CRC/C/OPAC/MMR/3-4).

Presentation of the Report

MARIE-THERESE KENGE NGOMBA TSHILOMBAYI, Cabinet Director at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, said tireless efforts were being carried out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure that children had full access to all of their rights. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was among the few countries that had not only ratified the Convention but also its two Optional Protocols. The report was put together over the past three years. The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had killed millions of people, violated the rights of women and children and saw foreign organizations fight over lucrative mineral resources. The rights of children had been seriously harmed during the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Children were present among the troops, but they were not recruited by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), but rather by armed groups resisting the peace process. Together with international organizations the Government worked to remove children from armed groups. Use of children as sexual slaves or as shields in war, the rape of children by soldiers and in some cases international forces, and the use of children as soldiers were tragic examples of the involvement of children in conflict, of which the Democratic Republic of the Congo was not a perpetrator but a victim. The report attested to various measures that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had taken through the implementation of constitutional, legislative and judicial provisions, which since 1999 had made the involvement of children in armed conflicts illegal.

The minimum age for military involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was 18, and awareness-raising campaigns had been organized throughout the country to disseminate that ruling. Over 30,000 children had been removed from the armed forces. A warning system – in conjunction with civil society and the international community – had always been operational within the FARDC so the army could react quickly if it was found that a child had been recruited. The Government was also committed to ending the non-direct participation of minors in hostilities, including children sent to the front or handling weapons. A 2000 law mandated the demobilization of troops and created a National Bureau on the Demobilization of Child Soldiers. Today a number of armed groups had agreed to be accepted into the national army, and the child soldiers among their number had been demobilized. Enforced enrolment of children under the age of 18 no longer happened. Medical checks were used to verify the age of adult recruits.

Sadly, armed groups including the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Democratic Forces of Liberation of Rwanda continued to commit serious violations of human rights when it came to the use of child soldiers. A person guilty of enrolling a child into a military organization could be punished with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years. The Government aimed for zero tolerance to impunity of perpetrators. In 2008, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund, a campaign called ‘No Child Soldiers in Armed Groups and Forces’ was launched, which was disseminated throughout the country despite the difficulties of the terrain. The main challenge was bringing peace to the national territory and finding funding for national programmes.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s initial report on the Optional Protocol on children involved in armed conflict can be read here: (CRC/C/OPAC/COD/1).

Questions from the Experts

YANGHEE LEE, Committee Rapporteur for the report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, congratulated the State party for submission of its initial report and the written replies. Although the report was due in 2004, the Committee was pleased to receive it. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was indeed a post-conflict country, seeking to pursue peace and security in all areas of the country, and it had gone through difficult times. Ms. Lee commended legislative reform including the Child Protection Act of 2009, Ratification of the Central African Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons and endorsement of the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment by armed forces.

Despite those positive developments, one in seven children died before the age of five, half of all children under five suffered from stunted development, the Democratic Republic of the Congo ranked 168 on the global corruption index and there was concern over the continued decrease of resources allocated to social sectors while 30 per cent of State expenditure was on defence. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had the highest number of children used and recruited by armed groups and the national military force of any country in the world. How widely known was the Optional Protocol amongst military personnel, the general public and children?

Ms. Lee expressed serious concern about continued impunity for perpetrators of child rights violations, including some senior military officers. For example Mai Mai militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka this month stood as a candidate for the National Assembly. Perpetrators with an International Criminal Court arrest warrant, such as General Bosco Ntaganda, who had been listed by the United Nations Security Council, and others including Lieutenant Colonels Jean-Pierre Biyoyo and Innocent Zimurinda and Colonel Baugouin Ngaruye remained in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC); there had been no prosecutions or convictions. The Committee was concerned that threats of reprisal may be the very reason why cases were not brought against many high-ranking officers.

Ms. Lee also asked what measures had been taken to eradicate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against indigenous families and their children, notably the Bambuti Pygmies in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Another Expert quoted reports that said that children were still being used as human shields. Multiple horrors had been inflicted, and the situation was not improving. Could the delegation describe their successes in rehabilitating former child soldiers? An Expert asked about the Code of Conduct recently adopted by the army. As nearly half of the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – 48-5 per cent – were children, how did that Code apply to help children in practice?

The Committee recognized that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was not only a very large country but was also one of the most populous in Africa, an Expert said. How did the Government go about distributing information on children’s rights? Furthermore, was there a sustainable programme to make training systematic, rather than just ad hoc depending on which international organization was offering help at any one time?

An Expert said there was an invisibility of the girl child who was being used as a soldier. It was difficult to find numbers, but those girls, as well as being used as soldiers, were also victims of sexual exploitation by soldiers. United Nations Children’s Fund figures showed that 13 per cent of recovered child soldiers were girls. What was being done to make society respect girls and women, and not use them as tools of war?

An Expert asked about fair trials of children who had previously been armed or involved in conflict. Those children were arrested and often held in prisons for months on end without charge. Alarming reports say children were taken to military prisons, with no details of their whereabouts. Were there any initial proposals to reform trials for children?

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said the report had been drafted through the usual process, and had been evaluated by civil society in a seminar. The Government acknowledged that children were not involved in the process and took account of the Committee’s remarks.

To the Government’s knowledge, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the Republican Guard did not enlist children as soldiers. The Government was open to any checks, sharing information and holding open discussions with civil society and the United Nations.

A 2010 decree implemented the 2009 act on the Protection of Children and set up dedicated children’s courts. Those tribunals were now in operation and judges and clerks had been appointed. In cases where children had been arrested the Government would look into it and release them.

Follow-Up Questions from Experts

An Expert noted that official reports showed there had been 127 additional enlistments of children into the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). What was the State party doing about that? The Government was responsible for child soldiers being used by other armed groups on its territory, as was stipulated in the Optional Protocol.

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said the Government agreed that there were cases of children being found in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) as children were found following the integration process. When the Government demobilized adult soldiers, 10 per cent of those would be children. There was a coalition of experts, United Nations agencies and civil society experts, who met frequently to decide how to deal with the issue.

Recently the Government had received information of 32 child soldiers living in camps in the North Katanga region, of whom 16 were from Burundi and 16 from Rwanda. The Government had released, reintegrated and reunified the children with their families. The Government continued its advocacy work but could not confirm details of children within the Republican Guard. United Nations reports said the Republican Guard allegedly recruited children in the Kitana and Kimina regions, but the Republican Guard was not actually deployed in those areas.

The fight against impunity was not making rapid progress because there was a clear separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature branches of Government. When the Government heard an allegation of a serious violation it must pass it to the military justice division. The Rapporteur mentioned specific cases of individuals who should stand trial. One example was of a Major who stood trial in a military court on charges of recruiting and using children in armed conflict. The court proved he had recruited children, but only found him guilty of violating military guidelines: he was pardoned under the amnesty law. It was possible that his crime did not exist on the military criminal code, so he could not be found guilty on that charge.

Follow-Up Questions from Experts

An Expert noted that judges were extremely low paid. If the Government did not pay its judges a better salary, then judges were more likely to be tempted by bribes. The Committee recommended that the State party not only increase the number of judicial officials but also their pay.

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said the Government was not only increasing the number of judges, but a new ruling meant that in 2012 the pay of judicial officials would be greatly increased.

Regarding the names of individual officers who should stand for trial as listed by the Security Council – many of them were not currently on Democratic Republic of the Congo territory. For example Laurent Kunda and others were currently working in neighbouring countries. However the Government was not resting. In 2011 the Government successfully apprehended and sentenced two operatives from the Democratic Forces of Liberation of Rwanda. The Government was determined to solve the problem of impunity, but asked the international community to be more involved so that the case files in the hands of the International Criminal Court could be brought to fruition. Concerning the specific case of Mia Mia militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, who recently ran in country elections, of which the results would be known this week, the Government would investigate and answer the Committee at a later date.

Social workers assisted children taken out of the armed forces in association with the social reform work conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs. There was a programme of training social workers, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the structures for child welfare had always been associated with the orientation procedures carried out during the demobilization of child soldiers.

The Government recognized the low rate of birth registrations, and had set up a Follow-Up Committee which developed a National Action Plan, an awareness-raising campaign directed at families and registrars. Support was being given to civil registries, their offices were being refurbished, and training was being given to births, deaths and marriage registrars.

Between 13 and 15 per cent of child soldiers were indeed found to be girls, although it was difficult to get through to them in the beginning, as when they were found they usually held arms. Since 2007 there had been special literacy programmes for girls, to teach them how to read and write. Many girls were attracted to that campaign, and many were child mothers; it was a good way to approach those children and to look after them from a humanitarian point of view. There was also a good programme to support teenage mothers.

Concluding Remarks

YANGHEE LEE, Committee Rapporteur for the report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in closing remarks said she was convinced the State party was fully aware of the issues. Some preliminary recommendations would be the priority of bringing all persons accused of committing crimes under the Protocol to justice, and ensuring that no children were recruited or used in armed conflict. The State party must ensure that all children in the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) were released and received sufficient psychosocial services. They should also ensure that military tribunals systematically transferred cases involving children under 18 years of age to civilian jurisdictions.

SEBASTIAN MUTOMB MUJING, Chargé d’Affaires of the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for their relevant questions and welcome advice, and said he hoped that by the next session they would be able to describe tangible progress in implementing the protocol.

JEAN ZERMATTEN, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their clarifications and answers. The meeting would lead to recommendations, and the Committee expected that those recommendations would be taken into account and disseminated, and that the situation of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be improved. The Committee was worried about violations of children’s rights in the State party and took note of the State party’s commitments.

Source: Committee on the Rights of the Child

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