The new Government in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was elected last year in landmark elections, must make child protection a "priority" and ensure enough resources are allocated to reintegrate former child soldiers into their communities, the top United Nations envoy on children and armed conflict said today.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, made her remarks during a press conference in Goma, at the end of her 6-day visit to the DRC, during which she met with Government officials, representatives from civil society, children affected by conflict and other relevant parties.
"Child protection must become a priority for the new Congolese Government," she said, adding that during her talks with the authorities they made commitments to tackle the issues of child recruitment and demobilization of children associated with armed groups as well as on sexual violence.
"It is therefore very important to have long-term development strategies and to allocate appropriate funds to support the efforts of UNICEF (the UN Children's Fund) and to child protection partners on the ground", she added, referring to properly reintegrating former child soldiers into their communities to avoid re-recruitment by armed groups.
Ms. Coomaraswamy stressed the importance of demobilizing all the children who are still in the ranks of the non integrated armed groups as well as in the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC). She also urged the authorities to take appropriate action against violators of children's rights who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity and called for the immediate arrest of commander Biyoyo, who has been tried and convicted for recruitment of children but who is currently at large.
She will now report on her visit to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as to the Security Council Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict in May 2007.
The issue of children and armed conflict is a major UN concern, and last month 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 conflicts wherever they occur.
The UN mission in the DRC (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. This culminated in the first democratic elections in over four decades last year, the largest and most complex polls the UN has ever helped to organize.