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Secretary-General urges greater protection for children in Chad, DR Congo

Secretary-General urges greater protection for children in Chad, DR Congo

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for greater protection for children caught up in armed conflict in the African nations of Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in two reports made public today.

Mr. Ban voiced his deep concern in one report over the grave violations of both children’s rights and international humanitarian law in Chad, including recruitment of children as soldiers with the Chadian Government forces, armed opposition groups, self-defence militias and Sudanese rebel groups operating in the neighbouring country.

“I appeal to these armed forces and groups to immediately cease such practices and identify, release and reintegrate into their communities all children associated with their forces with the support of the United Nations and other child protection actors,” he said.

His report highlights how the convergence of three distinct yet interrelated dimensions of the conflict in Chad – violence in the east between Government forces and armed opposition groups, ethnic and intercommunal strife in the east, and the Darfur conflict – have “led to a significant increase in grave child rights violations and impunity for crimes against children.”

But the Secretary-General welcomed the May agreement between Chad and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for the demobilization of child soldiers. Based on this accord, he requested that the Government create a plan to ensure the prevention of child recruitment and that transparent steps be taken to release and verify children in its forces.

Mr. Ban also expressed alarm over the increasing militarization in Chad’s east, and its implications for the civilian population, especially the most vulnerable groups such as refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

He called on Chad to bolster its child protection capacity, criminalize the recruitment and use of child soldiers under domestic laws, and thoroughly investigate and prosecute all crimes – such as rape, sexual violence, unlawful killing and abduction – against children. He also asked Chad to step up to its responsibilities under international humanitarian law by ensuring the safety of humanitarian workers and assets.

Meanwhile, in the DRC, the Secretary-General noted that while progress has been made by the Government, the UN mission (MONUC) and other partners to improve the situation of children affected by armed conflict, major obstacles remain, especially in the Ituri district and the North and South Kivu provinces in the north-east of the vast nation.

The report noted that 30 per cent of abducted children in these areas were recruited as soldiers, 13 per cent were raped and 2 per cent used as forced labour.

The report called for the arrest of Laurent Nkunda, who it said had used Congolese and Rwandan children as soldiers in North Kivu, as well as the re-arrest of Jean-Pierre Biyoyo, who was sentenced by a tribunal in the city of Bukavu in March last year to five years’ imprisonment for the de facto recruitment and use of child soldiers.

“I encourage the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and donors to devote greater resources to developing the national judicial and penitentiary systems in an effort to promote accountability for violations of children’s rights,” Mr. Ban wrote.

He also urged the Rwandan Government, in concert with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other child protection partners, to work to immediately end the recruitment of Congolese children from refugee camps in Rwanda, as well as of Rwandan children in the DRC.