DR Congo: UN envoy on children in conflict on mission to protect youngsters

DR Congo: UN envoy on children in conflict on mission to protect youngsters

Radhika Coomaraswamy
The top United Nations envoy on children and armed conflict is currently on a six-day mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to ensure greater protection for youngsters in the immediate post-conflict phase and peace consolidation process as the vast country emerges from years of civil war and factional fighting.

The top United Nations envoy on children and armed conflict is currently on a six-day mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to ensure greater protection for youngsters in the immediate post-conflict phase and peace consolidation process as the vast country emerges from years of civil war and factional fighting.

Special Representative Radhika Coomaraswamy will pay particular attention to the issues of children associated with armed groups, sexual violence and impunity.

“The UN Special Representative will have a constructive dialogue with the Government on these important issues,” her office said in a statement, noting that she will meet with relevant non state parties, civil society, non-government organizations (NGOs) and children affected by conflict “in the effort to address grave violations against children.”

Ms. Coomaraswamy is to visit the eastern regions of Ituri, North and South Kivu. Just last month the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC) warned that child soldiers being demobilized from former rebel groups in North Kivu were being pressured to conceal their age and civil status so that they can be enrolled in newly integrated army units.

“For MONUC and the whole international community, children should be at school to receive an education in peace and life, and certainly not in arms, war and death,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Didier Rancher said then.

The issue of children and armed conflict is a major UN concern, and last month the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the French Government co-hosted a conference in Paris at which 59 countries, including the DRC, committed themselves to putting an end to the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts wherever they occur.

MONUC has overseen the DRC’s transition from a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives in fighting and attendant hunger and disease, widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II, to gradual stabilization, culminating in the first democratic elections in over four decades last year, the largest and most complex polls the UN has ever helped to organize.