LONDON, 26 July 2013 – Rwanda must promptly implement the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to prevent child recruitment and investigate all reports of child recruitment in its territory. It must also cease any support to the M23 armed group, known to recruit children and use them in hostilities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Since June 2012, reports from UN and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have consistently pointed to the role of Rwandan officials in supporting the M23. This support has included assistance in the recruitment – in Rwanda’s territory – of Rwandan and Congolese children to be deployed in hostilities in the DRC. The M23 is listed in the annex of the last UN Secretary-General’s report as a party that recruits and uses children.

In a November 2012 report, the UN Group of Experts on the DRC expressed concern that recruitment by the Rwandan army for the M23 in Rwanda had increased, and that Rwandan civilians and Congolese refugees, including children, continued to be targeted.

The trend continued in 2013. In January, Child Soldiers International received independent confirmation of the practice of underage recruitment of Congolese children in refugee camps in Rwanda. This week, the UN Group of Experts’ mid-term report noted continuing, albeit diminishing, support from the Rwandan authorities to the M23. The groups also reported continuing recruitment from Rwanda. And yesterday, the Security Council strongly condemnedthe large scale recruitment and use of children by the M23 and other armed groups in eastern DRC and called on all countries of the region neither to tolerate nor provide assistance or support of any kind to armed groups.

In the midst of these consistent reports, the Committee on the Rights of the Child assessed Rwanda’s implementation of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) in May 2013. It expressed grave concern that armed groups operating in eastern DRC continue to recruit Rwandan children as well as refugee children in Rwanda, and to use them in hostilities. The Committee also deplored the absence of a child protection mechanism to mitigate this risk and address the needs of children who may have been recruited or used in hostilities. It recommended that Rwanda adopt and implement a comprehensive, time-bound plan of action to put an end to these abuses.

The Rwandan government has repeatedly denied all allegations of support to the M23. However, Rwanda has yet to conduct an independent and impartial investigation to ascertain any responsibility of Rwandan officials in supporting the M23, including in the recruitment of children. Reflecting on this failure, the Committee recommended that Rwanda independently and promptly investigate serious allegations of facilitating the recruitment and use of children in conflict by the M23, and to bring to justice any suspected perpetrators.

OPAC requires states parties to prevent unlawful recruitment of children in their territory and to effectively investigate credible reports of its occurrence. Child Soldiers International urges the Rwandan authorities to comply with their legally binding obligations under OPAC and promptly implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in particular to:

  • Adopt and implement, as a matter of urgency and with the assistance of the UN, a comprehensive time-bound plan of action to halt the recruitment and use of Rwandan and refugee children;
  • Independently and promptly investigate serious allegations of facilitating recruitment and use in hostilities of children for M23;
  • Ensure that individuals suspected of recruiting or supporting or facilitating the recruitment of children by armed groups, including M23, are apprehended and prosecuted.

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Background

Information on the support of the Rwandan authorities to the M23 and of M23 recruitment of children can be found in the following reports:

Addendum to the interim report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2012/348) concerning violations of the arms embargo and sanctions regime by the Government of Rwanda, 27 June 2012 (S/2012/348/Add.1). 

Final report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo pursuant to paragraph 4 of Security Council resolution 2021 (2011), 15 November 2012 (S/2012/843) 

Midterm report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19 July 2013 (S/2013/433).

Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 14 November 2012 (S/2012/838). 

Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 15 February 2013 (S/2013/96).  

Concluding observations on the initial report of Rwanda submitted under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, adopted by the Committee at its 63rd session (27 May–14 June 2013), UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/RWA/CO/1.

Human Rights Watch, DR Congo: Rwanda Should Stop Aiding War Crimes Suspect: Congolese Renegade General Bosco Ntaganda Receives Recruits and Weapons from Rwanda, 3 June 2012. 

Human Rights Watch, DR Congo: M23 Rebels Kill, Rape Civilians. New Evidence of Rwandan Support for M23, 22 July 2013. 

Child Soldiers International, Louder than Words: An Agenda for Action to End State Use of Child Soldiers, September 2012.