New York, 25 November – At the conclusion of a seven-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, declared that at this important moment in the peace process in eastern DRC, we must seize every opportunity to better protect children affected by conflict-related violence.
“Child recruitment has plagued the East of the country for too long. The surrender of the M23 and other armed groups brings with it the responsibility to help children reunite with their families, go back to school and aspire to a better future. The citizens of the DRC are asking for peace and I call on all armed groups to immediately lay down their arms and release children in their ranks,” declared the Special Representative.
Ms. Zerrougui met with national, provincial and local authorities in Kinshasa, Goma, Rutshuru and Beni. She assessed the situation of children affected by armed conflict, and reviewed progress in the implementation of the Action Plan signed in October 2012 by the Government of the DRC to end and prevent recruitment and use of children by national security forces, as well as sexual violence.
The Special Representative was accompanied by Barbara Bentein, UNICEF Representative in DRC. All activities were conducted by UNICEF and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO).
Implementation of the Action Plan
Since the signature of the Action Plan, hundreds of children have been released as a result of stronger cooperation between the Government and the United Nations.
“I was able to reconfirm the commitment of Congolese authorities to make their army child-free. We now have to address the remaining challenges to consolidate progress, achieve stability and ensure sustainability in the long term. To do so, strong political will is essential to strengthen state authority and the justice system. Adequate resources must be allocated in the national budget, to ensure the sustainability of the support provided by the UN and its partners,” said the Special Representative.
Children associated with armed groups and victims of other grave violations
Despite this progress, the Special Representative witnessed that children continue to be directly associated with armed groups, victims of grave child rights violations, such as killing, maiming, abductions and sexual violence. In some cases, they are detained without due process by national security forces for their alleged association with rebel movements.
“The Government is committed to ensuring that perpetrators of child rights violations, regardless of their affiliation, are not integrated in the national security forces held accountable for their actions in court. To this end, regional cooperation in the fight against impunity is essential to end the cycle of violence in the eastern DRC,” said Ms. Zerrougui.
Unaccompanied children victims of the armed conflict in the DRC
The Special Representative commends the release and handover by Ugandan authorities to United Nations partners of unaccompanied Congolese children victims of the armed conflict in the DRC.
Between May 2012 and November 2013, the United Nations identified a significant number of foreign unaccompanied children victims of the conflict in eastern DRC.
“All governments concerned need to cooperate with the UN and partners to immediately facilitate family reunification of children victims of the armed conflict in eastern DRC, irrespective of their nationality, status or whereabouts,” Ms. Zerrougui said.
Protecting children must be at the heart of the ongoing dialogue and measures adopted to build a sustainable peace in the region. The Special Representative welcomes the campaign “Zero Child Soldier in the Great Lakes Region” announced last week by the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and looks forward to working with them towards this shared goal.
In eastern DRC, children’s right to education has been compromised by the looting and destruction of many schools. In its rebuilding efforts, the Government should make the rehabilitation of schools a priority. Education is central to prevent violence. It is the start of a better future for the child, his community and the country.
Releasing children associated with armed groups is crucial, but it is also the beginning of a long road to rebuild their lives. UNICEF and its partners play a key role by supporting the Government to help children affected by conflict regain their childhood, return to school and resume a normal life with their families.
“The UN stands ready to work with Congolese authorities to develop a national demobilization plan that will ensure adequate planning and resources for the reintegration of children,” said Ms. Zerrougui.
The Special Representative and the United Nations in DRC renew their commitment to support the people of DR Congo to protect children and help them build the future of the country.
Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
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