Democratic Republic of Congo: first steps towards greater respect for the civilian populations in North Kivu
6 July 2016
Geneva Call is entering its second year of work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The organization has recently observed concrete examples of improvements in respect for civilians by various armed groups with which it is in dialogue. In North Kivu, Geneva Call has initiated discussions with four active armed groups and during the past few months it has already trained more than 200 officers and combatants about Humanitarian Law, particularly on the rules governing child protection and prohibiting sexual violence.
In February 2016, following an attack on enemy forces, the Mai Mai armed group, Nduma Defense of Congo – Rénové announced that it had taken in members from enemy combatants’ families – mostly women and children – and had subsequently handed them over to a humanitarian organization specialized in civilian protection.
For their part, according to confirmed sources, the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) handed a captured soldier back to government forces in the presence of a witness. The soldier had been captured in March 2016 and had been treated humanely during his detention.
The same month, the APCLS refused to enlist a 15-year old minor who wanted to join the movement, and instead returned him to his community. Indeed, in January 2016, with Geneva Call’s support, this movement amended its code of conduct in order to prohibit the recruitment of children under the age of 18.
Finally, the APCLS recently sought Geneva Call’s advice on the appropriate action to take following a case of child abuse perpetrated by one of its combatants. Geneva Call advised it to turn the combatant in to the state’s judicial authorities and to explain that it did not have the capacity to meet the requirements for a fair trial as stipulated in International Humanitarian Law. The combatant has since been handed over to the Armed Forces of the DRC.
According to Marie Coutin Lequin, Programme Manager for the DRC, “Even if humanitarian law violations perpetrated by armed actors unfortunately remain prevalent in North Kivu, it is important to note and to encourage their efforts to increase respect towards civilian populations and humanitarian norms.”
Geneva Call is continuing its dialogue with four armed groups in North Kivu and anticipates beginning negotiations with a fifth group in the coming weeks.