Armed groups and government forces continue to abuse women and children in North Kivu
Armed groups are still recruiting child soldiers to fight in the ongoing conflict in the province of North Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Those child soldiers who attempt to escape have been killed or tortured, sometimes in front of other children, to discourage further escapes. Children who are taken captive by the DRC army on suspicion of being armed group fighters, have faced ill-treatment and torture in military detention.
There is also continuing physical and sexual abuse of women and children in the conflict, according to the new Amnesty International report, North Kivu: No end to the war against women and children.
The report is based on research and eye witness testimony collected by an Amnesty International fact-finding mission in North Kivu in February and March 2008. It says that members of armed groups and government security forces continue to rape and sexually abuse women and girls and, in a smaller number of cases, men and boys. Infant children and elderly women are among the victims, many of whom have suffered gang rape or have been raped more than once.
These abuses are happening despite government and armed group commitments to immediately end these atrocities in a 23 January 2008 "Act of Engagement".
According to the Amnesty International report, of the former child soldiers who had been reunited with their families in North Kivu through a national demobilization programme, as many as half may since have been re-recruited by armed groups.
Beaten to death
One former child soldier told Amnesty International how two youths were beaten to death in front of him and other child recruits "as a lesson to all of us not to try to escape":
"[The boys] were brought out of a pit in the ground and presented to us during a training session. [An armed group senior commander] then gave the order to beat them. Two soldiers and a captain pushed them down into the mud. When they tired of kicking them?they beat them with wooden sticks. The punishment lasted 90 minutes, until they died."
Rape has been committed in public and in front of family members, including children. Some women have been abducted and held as sexual slaves. In many cases, sexual abuse and rape appear to be ethnically motivated and/or aimed at terrorizing and demoralizing communities suspected of supporting enemy groups.
One 16-year-old rape survivor described how she had been abducted by two junior army officers and held captive in an army camp in North Kivu for several days before she was released. In the camp, she was raped nightly by one of the officers.
"The other officers and soldiers in the camp didn't seem to care or be willing to take responsibility", she told Amnesty International. She now suffers flashbacks and persistent headaches.
In its report, Amnesty International issued comprehensive recommendations to the armed groups, DRC government and the international community aimed at stopping human rights abuses. The recommendations include a call on armed groups to immediately release all children associated with their forces, and measures to end to the horror of sexual violence.
Background to the conflict
Despite a peace accord signed in January 2008, armed conflict has persisted in North Kivu. The fighting involves the regular Congolese army (FARDC) and the CNDP armed group under the command of a renegade general Laurent Nkuna, as well as a number of local mayi-mayi militia and the Rwandan FDLR armed group. Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence.
More than 100,000 people have been displaced by renewed fighting in North Kivu since 28 August 2008, adding to more than 1 million people displaced by earlier violence in the region.