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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Rwanda

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Rwanda, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 9.0 million (4.7 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 33,000
Compulsary Recruitment Age: no conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 18
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: acceded 23 April 2002
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ACRWC

Children were recruited from Congolese refugee camps in Rwanda by armed units under the command of Laurent Nkunda, and deployed in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2007. There was no evidence of under-18s in the Rwandan armed forces.


Rwandan government forces fighting in the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) conflict officially withdrew from the DRC in October 2002. Regional relations continued to be characterized by tension, however, and in 2004 Rwanda threatened on three occasions to renew military operations in the DRC, citing in June 2004 the need to protect Congolese Tutsi from ethnic violence and in April and November the need to counter the threat posed by dissident Rwandan forces based in the eastern DRC. There were credible reports that Rwandan army units entered the DRC in each of these months, but this was denied by the government.1 In September 2004 Rwanda and the DRC signed the terms of reference for a Joint Verification Mechanism, providing a framework for jointly addressing cross-border issues, including the presence in the DRC of Rwandan armed groups.2 The two governments committed to ensuring the disarmament, demobilization and repatriation of foreign armed groups within 12 months of the date of signature.3 By the end of 2007 about 15,300 of an estimated 18,500 fighters, primarily the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda, FDLR), had been repatriated to Rwanda.4


National recruitment legislation and practice

The June 2003 constitution reaffirmed Rwanda's adherence to international treaties, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.5 In its 2003 report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the government stated that "although voluntary enlistment in the armed forces is subject by law to a minimum age of 16, the law that was recently passed on the rights of the child and protection of children against violence states in article 19 that military service is prohibited for children under 18". The report further stated that since enlistment in the armed forces has always been voluntary, no minimum conscription age was specified in Rwandan legislation.6 There were no reports of child-soldier recruitment or use by the Rwandan armed forces.

Armed Groups:

Recruitment in refugee camps by armed units under the command of Laurent Nkunda7

An upsurge in child recruitment from refugee camps and communities in Rwanda occurred from January 2007.8 Children said that they had been offered money and employment if they returned to North Kivu, DRC, but on arrival were recruited into armed units loyal to armed group leader Laurent Nkunda.9 Rwandan authorities carried out a joint assessment with officials from the UN refugee agency UNHCR in May. They visited refugee camps to establish mechanisms for improved child protection, including improved control of the exit of children from the camps.10 The Rwandan government initiated an investigation into the alleged removal in July of eight children from Kiziba camp, for deployment in South Kivu.11 Some Rwandan child soldiers repatriated to Rwanda were reportedly arrested and beaten by the authorities.12 Twenty-seven children had been released from armed group units loyal to Nkunda by mid-2007; they included 16 Rwandan children (of whom 13 were recruited in Rwanda).13 In July the UN Secretary-General called on the Rwandan government to "act immediately" to stop all recruitment of child soldiers in the refugee camps and elsewhere in Rwanda.14

Government militias

Local Defence Forces (LDFs) were created by the government in the late 1990s and charged with ensuring local security. LDF members were appointed by local officials and served as volunteers; they received limited training and some were authorized to carry weapons. LDF members were implicated in human rights abuses, including the illegal detention of street children, during the first months of 2006.15 Children (some as young as 14) were reported to have been recruited into LDFs before 2004.16 A 2005 law formalized the legal status, structure and organization of the LDFs and established 18 as the minimum recruitment age.17 No LDF recruitment of children was reported after the law came into effect.18

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

Provision for ex-combatants repatriated from the DRC was managed by the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), a government agency operating within the framework of the World Bank's Multi-country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP). By 2007 some 650 Rwandan former child soldiers who had taken part in the DRC armed conflict had been repatriated to Rwanda under the program. Of these, 85 had taken part in an education program, 147 had received vocational training and 192 had been assisted with income-generating activities.19 According to one non-governmental organization (NGO) survey, only two of the returnees were girls, although this was attributed to the small numbers of girls recruited in Rwanda and the fact that girls preferred to return as civilians through the UNHCR-run program.20

In late 2005 the RDRC opened a demobilization centre for child soldiers next to Lake Muhazi, and in March 2007 the Muhazi centre housed 38 former child soldiers, most of whom had fought with the FDLR. Former child soldiers were reported to spend three to six months at the centre, where they received civic education, psychosocial assistance and education or vocational training, while their families were traced. When leaving the centre former child soldiers received a basic kit but no cash payments.21


Detention of children accused of involvement in the genocide

Of the 120,000 people detained for involvement in the 1994 genocide, some 4,500 were reportedly below the age of 18 at the time of the genocide.22 Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame, ordered the release of all "genocide minors" in January 2003, but under implementing regulations only those who had spent the maximum possible sentence in pre-trial detention were eligible to be freed.23 During the same month the government released some 1,100 detainees who had been children in 1994.24 A further 1,900 were released in July 2005 and 78 more in March 2007. It was unclear whether any individuals below the age of 18 in 1994 remained in detention as of October 2007.25

Article 74 of the law on crimes against humanity and genocide stated that children under the age of 14 at the time of the crime could not be held legally responsible for their actions or detained, and that children over 14 but under 18 should receive reduced penalties.26 A system of community-based gacaca tribunals (based on traditional courts), established by the government in 2001, continued to try persons accused of involvement in the genocide. A 2007 amendment to the gacaca law reduced the maximum penalty for minors convicted of offences under categories 2, 3 and 4 of the law from 12 years and 6 months to 5 years and 6 months.27 Accused persons had no right to counsel in gacaca jurisdictions, and the courts were widely accused of faulty procedure, judicial corruption and false accusations.28

1 "Democratic Republic of the Congo", Amnesty International Report 2005.

2 Sixteenth report of the Secretary-General on the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN Doc. S/2004/1034, 31 December 2004.

3 Ibid.

4 Twenty-fourth report of the Secretary-General on the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, S/2007/671, 14 November 2007.

5 The Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, 2003, Articles 28 and 47.

6 Second periodic report of Rwanda to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/70/Add.22, 8 October 2003.

7 See the entry on the DRC in this volume for a detailed explanation.

8 Child Soldiers Coalition sources, eastern DRC, April 2007.

9 Human Rights Watch (HRW), "Army should stop use of child soldiers", 19 April 2007.

10 HRW, Renewed Crisis in North Kivu, October 2007.

11 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, UN Doc. A/62/609-S.2007/757, 21 December 2007.

12 Coalition sources, July 2007.

13 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, S/2007/391, 28 June 2007.

14 Ibid.

15 Human Rights Watch World Report 2003 and 2007.

16 Information from Amnesty International, March 2004.

17 Law No. 25/2004 of 19 November 2004 Establishing and Determining the Organisation and Functioning of the Local Service in Charge of Assisting in Maintenance of Security Referred to as "Local Defence," Article 9(3), Official Gazette No. 1, 1 January 2005.

18 Confidential sources, Rwanda, March – April 2007.

19 Multi-country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP), "Rwanda, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission", 1 November 2006; MDRP, Monthly Statistical Progress Report, September 2007; both at

20 Save the Children-UK, Crossing the Border: The Demobilisation and Reintegration of Rwandan Boys and Girls Associated with Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, July 2004,

21 Confidential sources, Rwanda, March – April 2007.

22 Report of the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Rwanda, UN Doc. A/55/269, 4 August 2000.

23 Parquet Général, "Instruction concernant l'exécution du communiqué présidential du 01 janvier 2003 venant de la présidence de la république qui concerne la libération provisoire des détenus des différentes catégories," 9 January 2003.

24 Ministry of Justice, Imbonerahamwe igaragaza ibisabwa n'intangazo ryaturutse muri Perezidansi ya Repubulika/Chart showing what was required by the Communiqué of the President of the Republic, March 2003.

25 Confidential sources, April and September 2007.

26 Second periodic report, above note 6.

27 Category 1 offences included crimes related to the organization or incitement of genocide. Categories 2 and 3 defined "less serious" crimes including co-authorship of, or being an accomplice to, deliberate killing or the infliction of serious injuries with or without the intention to cause death. Category 4 refers to those who have committed such acts but have reached an amicable settlement with the victim or before the public authority. Article 51, Organic Law No. 10/2007 modifying and complementing Organic Law No. 16/2004 of 19 June 2004, establishing the organization, competence and functioning of gacaca courts charged with prosecuting and trying the perpetrators of the crime of genocide or crimes against humanity committed between 1 October 1990 and 31 December 1994; Organic Law No. 40/2000 of 26 January 2000 setting up "gacaca jurisdictions" and organizing prosecutions for offences constituting the crime of genocide or crimes against humanity, committed between 1 October 1990 and 31 December 1994,

28 Human Rights Watch World Report 2008.

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