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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

16 March 2007

With new Governments in power in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, both those countries had pledged to make child protection a major issue, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.

Briefing correspondents on her recent visit to the two countries, she said she had been encouraged by her discussions.

She said she had visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the invitation of the Government and pursuant to the recommendations of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. The Working Group had examined a report on the country in June, recommending, among other things, that she visit.

During her trip, she had focused on the areas of child recruitment, sexual violence and impunity for grave violations against children, she said. She had visited Kinshasa, Goma, Bunia and Bukavo, meeting with the Prime Minister and Defence Minister, as well as many other Government officials, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and children.

While the security situation in the Democratic Republic was improving, it was still very fragile and the issue of children needed to be addressed from that perspective, she said. Following elections, there appeared to be an enabling political environment and great expectation that the situation would improve and things could get done. Government officials had made an open commitment to ensure that child protection was one of the Government’s major priorities.

Child recruitment was decreasing everywhere, except in North Kivu, where it was on the increase, mainly due to the activities of dissident rebel, Laurent Nkunda, she said. The main issue, in that regard, was the brassage and mixage process, where child protection workers were trying to separate children from adults as they became integrated into the Democratic Republic forces. The mixage process remained a problem, however. For example, some 223 children had been identified, but had nevertheless been deployed to the front, where fighting was taking place between the mixage forces brigades and the rebel movements from the Interahamwe. A total of some 29,291 children had so far been demobilized. She hoped that number would increase, as the mixage and brassage process continued.

She noted that, while there had been some reinsertion of children into their communities with an 18-month package given by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), not all children were being successfully reintegrated. Some were recycled into regional wars, some engaged in criminal activities, yet others became street children. As a result, United Nations and non-governmental organization partners wanted to think long term about those issues. UNICEF had planned a comprehensive project. Now the attempt was to persuade donors to accept that long-term perspective.

Regarding the issue of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic, she noted that 54,000 victims had been identified since 2004, of which 16 per cent were children. At a hospital she had met many young girls under the age of 15 who had been subject to gang rape and were pregnant. Sexual violence was a serious issue and was not decreasing -- like child recruitment, a lot of the guilty parties were Government security forces themselves. Detailed discussions had been held with the magistrates and the “auditor militaire” in the Democratic Republic to ensure that jurisprudence was up to international standards, evidence gathering procedures were adopted and women would come forward to make their complaints. It remained an absolute and serious problem.

Concerning impunity for grave violations, she said rebel leaders Nkunda and Karim, who had been documented as committing serious crimes, had not been arrested. She had raised those issues with the Government and United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) officials. She had been informed that political negotiations were being conducted and that the consequences of an attempt to arrest those people would have severe consequences for the population’s security.

She had been reassured, however, that amnesty would not be given to those people in the negotiations for war crimes and crimes against humanity, she continued. She felt, however, that immediate action could be taken against certain members, including commander Biyoyo, who had been convicted by a Congolese court, but had escaped prison and remained at large. Such actions only reiterated a sense of a lack of rule of law. In the long term, the rule of law needed to be developed in the country.

Turning to Burundi, she said the situation there was very encouraging. The general human rights situation had improved remarkably, as well as the situation regarding children. The officials were very committed to child protection.

On the issue of recruitment, she noted that some 3,028 children had been demobilized with 18-month packages. The Forces nationals de liberation-Palipehutu (FNL), however, continued to recruit children. The process of separating the children from adults was not going as fast as possible. She was also concerned that issues were being dealt with in a short-term perspective. She had reiterated the need to address such issues in the Peacebuilding Commission.

Regarding sexual violence, while the figures had gone down, levels of violence remained high, she said.

The detention of minors associated with armed groups was another issue, she said. Some changes had been carried out, however, with the revision of the Penal Code, by which the recruitment of children under 16 years was a war crime. She was concerned about the consequences of war on children. Some 836,000 children, or 10 per cent of Burundi’s population, were orphans, many of whom had become street children.

Responding to a question on Burundi, she said there was no violence in Burundi now, with FNL engaging in negotiations. The issue was getting the FNL into the process and integrating their forces with the Government forces. Another issue was the need to build the rule of law and ensure accountability. The matter of transitional justice had also been raised. She had been quite encouraged by discussions with the Government. They seemed compelled by the victory in the elections. She was determined to engage in developing Burundi, she said.

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For information media • not an official record

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