|| Democratic Republic of Congo: in its management of the security crisis, the government must not lose sight of the rights of children
|Considering their precarious life conditions, displaced youth living in camps are at very high risk of forced recruitment in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, (Danilo Giannese/JRS)
|Children are not only directly exposed to the real risk of recruitment and re-recruitment; their vulnerability is also aggravated by the reduced activity of child protection organisations that are affected by the security situation.
NGOs urge the Congolese government to strengthen the prevention of child recruitment
Kinshasa, London, 19 September 2012 – While the security, political and diplomatic crisis in the east of the country is deepening, the undersigned organisations remind the Congolese government of its duty to prevent the involvement of children in armed conflict. Under international law, the recruitment or use of children by armed forces or armed groups is unlawful and may constitute a war crime; and it is the primary responsibility of governments to safeguard the rights of children in their territory and to ensure their protection against military exploitation.
Since the emergence of the 'M23' armed group in April 2012, there have been numerous and credible reports of, as well as testimonies denouncing, the recruitment and use of children. In May 2012, Human Rights Watch revealed that at least 48 children had been forcibly recruited by the M23. But the recruitment of children is also increasing among other armed groups – whether foreign or Congolese – in North Kivu, South Kivu, Orientale Province and Katanga.
Since April, the security situation throughout the east of the country has considerably deteriorated, particularly in North Kivu, where the M23 operates, owing to fighting between this group and the armed forces of the DRC (FARDC). However, the redeployment of the FARDC to contain the M23 gave free rein to many self-defence militias and armed groups which recruit and use children; in these areas, there has been an increase in violations perpetrated against civilians, including child recruitment, which the government is unable to curb.
Last August, MONUSCO expressed deep concern about 150 documented incidents of child recruitment by the M23, Mai Mai groups, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) since the beginning of 2012; it noted that the actual numbers may be much higher.
The undersigned organisations express grave concern about the danger posed by the current security vacuum in some areas of eastern Congo. Children are not only directly exposed to the real risk of recruitment and re-recruitment; their vulnerability is also aggravated by the reduced activity of child protection organisations that are affected by the security situation.
It is in this context that the government announced last August an operation to recruit young Congolese aged 18 to 25 years to "rejuvenate" the FARDC. By the end of the month, about a hundred young people had already volunteered for enrolment. The undersigned are concerned that recruitment procedures in the DRC may not be sufficiently regulated to prevent the voluntary enlistment of minors.
In its efforts to combat the M23 and other armed groups responsible for abuses against civilians, the Congolese government should allocate the necessary time and resources to ensure the rigorous identification of recruits and comply with Congolese legislation on the minimum age of recruitment. In addition, the government should refrain from providing any military or political support to armed groups and militia suspected of recruiting and using child soldiers.
In February 2012, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) expressed its concern and issued its recommendations to the Congolese government on the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. This Protocol, ratified by the DRC in 2001, prohibits armed groups from recruiting – whether forcibly or voluntarily – any person under the age of 18 and using them in hostilities. With this statement, we urge the government to implement the recommendations of the Committee without delay, focusing in particular on its duty to:
- Take all necessary measures to ensure that no child is recruited by armed groups;
- Ensure that the release, rehabilitation and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and armed groups become a priority;
- Ensure that no military, financial or logistical support is provided to local militias suspected of recruiting or using children;
- Establish frameworks for cooperation and cross-border exchange to repatriate children released from armed forces and armed groups to their country of origin;
- Standardise army recruitment procedures and train officers to systematically and effectively verify the age of all new recruits so that no minor is recruited;
- Disseminate guidelines on age verification and give instruction to recruiters not to recruit a person whose age is in doubt.
For further information contact
- Action des chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture (ACAT), Goma/North-Kivu
- Appui aux femmes démunies et enfants marginalisés (AFEDEM), Goma/North-Kivu
- Association de jeunes pour le développement intégré-Kalundu (AJEDI-Ka), Uvira/South-Kivu
- Bureau pour le volontariat au service de l'enfance et de la santé (BVES), Bukavu/South-Kivu
- Caritas-Développement Goma/North-Kivu
- Child Soldiers International, London
- Coalition des ONG des droits de l'enfant (CODE), Kinshasa
- Enfants pour l'avenir et le développement (EAD), Beni/North-Kivu
- Fondation Monseigneur Emmanuel Kataliko (FOMEKA), Uvira/South-Kivu
- The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Rome
- Promotion de la femme et de l'enfant autochtone (PEFA)
Jesuit Refugee Service (International Office)
Tel: +39 06 69868 468; +39 346234 3841;
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.jrs.net
Regional Advocacy and Communications Officer,
Jesuit Refugee Service Great Lakes
Tel: +257 78991302;
South Sudan: JRS entrusts activities to the local population after 15 years
|JRS beneficiaries carry the JRS Nimule closing ceremony banner as they walk to Mass. Rebeca Acedo/JRS
|JRS work on education and peace-building in the aftermath of the 20-year war in Sudan has helped provide a foundation from which the community can now build.
Nimule, 20 September 2012 – The curtains finally came down on the Jesuit Refugee Service involvement in the education and peace building project in the border town of Nimule when the community joined together to ensure a fitting end to the project last month. The closing ceremony marked an important milestone in the history of JRS Eastern Africa, handing over full responsibility to the South Sudanese authorities and the local community.
JRS work on education and peace-building in the aftermath of the 20-year war in Sudan has helped provide a foundation from which the community can now build. For instance, JRS provided services and assistance in Nimule to more than 13,000 people in a range of activities, including school construction and teacher training.
Education (primary, secondary and adult) as a way of promoting peace and rebuilding the country has been a major focus for JRS in Nimule. The formation of peace clubs, training of catechists, and support for livelihoods through pastoral work have also strengthened the community.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, UN refugee agency field officer in Nimule, Charles Mogga Idra, urged the community to "grasp the opportunity and maintain the work started by JRS".
Mr Mogga called on investors to set up quality learning institutions for children and supplement efforts by NGOs and the government.
JRS first identified an unmet need in Nimule in 1997 when millions were displaced to other parts of Sudan or to neighbouring countries during the two-decade long war. After the close of the Adjumani project in northern Uganda in 2008, JRS accompanied refugees returning home to rebuild their lives.
The project in Nimule continued to expand to support the populations of returnees who came back from exile in neighbouring countries, such as Uganda and Kenya, after the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.
However, infrastructure had been destroyed during the war and educational services were severely lacking in Nimule. In response, JRS stepped in to help build an education system and foster long-term peace among South Sudanese community members.
Sustainable progress. "JRS has trained peace facilitators to solve problems which may occur in the community. Creation of peace clubs has ensured the youth are not idle and has reduced conflict in the area", said a JRS peace facilitator, John Paul.
JRS also supported 25 primary schools and four secondary schools in Nimule in 2011. The impact of this educational support was clearly demonstrated earlier in 2012 when the results of the 2011 South Sudan Certificate in Secondary Education (SSCSE) were released.
The top performing school in South Sudan was JRS-supported Fulla Secondary School in Nimule. The tenth best-performing girl also hailed from Fulla Secondary School. The attendance of girls enrolled in school has risen as a result of JRS provision of hygiene packs and counselling support.
In addition, JRS addressed the importance of sustainable livelihoods through supplying ovens, agricultural seeds and tools to families which ensures further self-reliance after the JRS exit.
As the celebration drew to a close, the words and support of the Catholic Bishop of Torit Diocese, Akio Johnson Mutek, resonated with the audience. He sent his best wishes to JRS as the organisation looks to the future with confidence, turning its attention now to other projects in South Sudan where greater need is observed. These include educational, pastoral support and peace building projects in the communities of Lobone, Yei and Kajo Keji.
Alex Kiptanui, Nimule Project Director, JRS South Sudan
India: early-school leavers grab their second chance
|Premila and Beham, 20 and 17 year of age respectively, perform a Sri Lankan folk dance to initiate the graduation ceremony of the twenty-third group of women from the Saint Joseph's Tailoring School in Trichy, Tamil Nadu. The 19 young women completed this six-month course in tailoring, embroidery, gardening, cooking, English and computer skills. (Molly Mullen/JRS)
|I teach them drawing and stitching, but the main thing is how to believe in yourself and trust others.
Trichy, 21 September 2012 – As the lights dimmed in the auditorium of Saint Joseph's Tailoring School an electric vibe filled the building as 19 young Sri Lankan refugee women peeked through the curtains at their family members and teachers in the audience before their graduation ceremony commenced. This mid-September night a special moment for these women, all born to impoverished families in one of the 114 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu.
Growing up they were denied the rights granted to Indians and struggled to eek out a living after dropping out of school at a tender age. However, a few years ago, they received another chance when they enrolled in St Joseph's Tailoring School. Before the ceremony began, the recent graduates were beaming with pride when performing traditional dance and comedy performances to friends and family and decked out in the clothing they had designed and crafted.
Learning leadership. Brindha, a 23-year-old teacher at St Joseph's, is one of the fortunate refugees permitted by the authorities to live outside the camp. She graduated from an Indian government school and is now studying for her master's degree in fashion technology with dreams of opening her own boutique.
Aware that the women in the refugee camps struggle to attain the same level of education she has received, Brindha wanted to give these women skills they could use to support themselves and their families. Brindha emphasised the importance of not only teaching sewing skills to the women but also giving them the confidence to understand that they are valuable and worthy of respect.
"I teach them drawing and stitching, but the main thing is how to believe in yourself and trust others", she explained.
As they took to the stage, the young women each exhibited spirited self-confidence that roused the audience to applause. It was hard to believe that just six months ago they were timid and unwilling to express themselves in public. However, after several field trips introducing issues such as ecology, women's legal rights and leadership, and classes on literacy skills, computers studies, and street theatre, these young women are now developing the confidence to realise their rights and duty to express their ideas.
"In a society where traditionally women were not educated and were not allowed to appear in public, these schools offer social awareness and small-business skills in a women-friendly space", said Fr Martin Lenk, SJ, who briefly taught English at the centre.
Premila's mother and brother supported her on this special day. Her brother had scars from a cluster bomb that exploded near him in Sri Lanka in 2009 when he was only 17. JRS paid for his surgery that removed shrapnel from his hand, arm and leg. After physiotherapy, he is now able to resume work as a painter.
"Only a few months ago we were without future, I was a person with very little confidence in myself and in others. Now my brother has had the surgery to heal his hand and I have a job. This school taught me I can trust in myself and believe in the future", said Premila.
A rocky road ahead. The future of many refugees residing in these camps remains uncertain. With the population at 68,000, people cluster together in small shacks and live with difficulties common to impoverished communities: alcoholism, early marriage, divorce, suicide, unemployment and gender-based violence.
"When a man drinks, he doesn't work. This leads to depression, more drinking and violence towards the women in his family", said Lilly Pushpam, JRS programmes officer in Tamil Nadu.
JRS also implements alcohol recovery and poverty alleviation programmes, but the progress remains slow. However, the refugee girls of Tamil Nadu, tonight is their night. And despite the difficulties that remain, for the first time, they are playing a positive role in determining their futures.
Molly Mullen, communications consultant, JRS International
Colombia: peace negotiations, a ray of hope for refugees
|Displaced Colombian in Panama (Laurent Labrique/JRS)
|Contrary to popular belief, the conflict in Colombia has not ended and certain populations are still at risk of fundamental human rights violations.
Bogota, 21 September 2012 – Hope clearly begins to breathe in Colombia after decades of open confrontation between armed groups. For 15 years, victims displaced from the Colombian conflict have longed to return to the homeland they were forced to leave. With the beginning of peace talks between the left-wing guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the government that hope may finally be realised.
When we asked one Colombian refugee woman in Venezuela what the word 'homeland' meant for her, she gasped, closed her eyelids to stop the tears rolling down her face, but said nothing. Surely now, she and many others expelled from Colombia wonder if their homeland that failed to protect their human rights has really changed.
More broadly, how will the recent government decision to begin peace talks affect the 460,000 forcibly displaced Colombians living outside the country, some as recognised refugees or asylum seekers, others living in a legal limbo, but all in need of international protection?
A war fed by internal and external factors. Throughout the past 50 years, violence in Colombia, causing the greatest number of internal displacement in the western hemisphere, has been fuelled by a number of internal and external factors. Internally it has been driven by competing land interests, regional autocracies and the violent momentum of some factions of powerful armed groups.
Externally, the narco-trafficking business and tensions between the US and emerging Latin American powers have played a crucial role in perpetuating conflict. In addition, changing patterns of international trade have meant that control of land in Colombia, particularly in the border regions, determines access to economic opportunities in both legal and illegal sectors.
More than peace, what gives encouragement at this moment is the end of the armed conflict. Peace negotiations will allow for the advancement of ample discussions inside the country over the structural factors underlying the violence and the necessity to include the diverse positions without fear of being criminalised as in the past.
As long as the war goes on, strengthening a state-of-emergency mind-set, many political decisions regarding the future of Colombia will continue to be taken without necessary consultation and respect for individual rights. The unanswered question is: what type of country was being built under the illusion of the war on terrorism?
A presidential initiative. Since the inauguration of President Juan Manuel Santos, his new administration has sought to rebuild diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries, in particular Venezuela and Ecuador, strained by loudspeaker-type, aggressive stances taken by the Colombian government between 2002 and 2010.
This process began with improvements in commercial relations after Venezuela began paying off debts to Colombian exporters. Subsequent discussion moved on to border policies, military cooperation, among others. Finally, issues related to migration found their way onto the agenda at these bilateral meetings.
Initially, Ecuador dropped the entry requirement for Colombians to be in possession of a document issued by the security and immigration services, Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, indicating whether or not they had a criminal record. Later, Venezuela removed visa requirements for Colombians entering the country. All these initiatives made it easier for refugees to gain access to safety in neighbouring states.
The Colombian government responded to these moves by offering a small contribution, 500,000 US dollars, for refugee support in Ecuador. It was the first time the Colombian government had recognised the hardship faced by victims of armed conflict forced to seek asylum abroad and the efforts made by neighbouring states assisting these populations.
The presentation of the Victims and Restitution of Lands bill to the Colombia lower parliament in late 2011 was another sign of the government moving in the direction of peace, repatriation and reconciliation. For the first time it opened debate on the framework for addressing the situation of victims living outside Colombia.
The issue of refugee reparation had been largely ignored by the government. That said, during the first six months of 2012, progress was made as the institutions responsible for the registration of and compensation to victims, such as the return of stolen land, consulted with agencies and organisations working outside of Colombia.
Safe return to Colombia. One of the major future challenges facing forcibly displaced Colombians is the possibility of their safe return home. Before this can take place, refugees should be provided with adequate information on the human rights situation in Colombia. Notwithstanding this, all decisions regarding their repatriation should be made voluntarily.
Contrary to popular belief, the conflict in Colombia has not ended and certain populations are still at risk of fundamental human rights violations. The armed groups – successors of the right-wing paramilitary groups – still maintain control over vast tracts of land, and even in the midst of peace negotiations, armed clashes persist. Moreover, the left-wing guerrilla group, the national liberation army (ELN), has not formally begun peace negotiations with the government.
Under the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, states are obliged to consider 'generalised violence' as grounds for granting asylum within their territories. To put this in perspective, until Colombia is a safe country for its citizens they should continue to enjoy asylum in neighbouring states. Yet their absence from Colombia should not exclude all forcibly displaced Colombians – regardless of their migration status– from being part of the debate on the future of the country, particularly on issues related to reparation and justice.
Luis Fernando Gómez, Regional Advocacy coordinator for Latin America and Caribbean (JRS LAC)
Democratic Republic of Congo: one kick can promote tolerance
|The Birega schoolboys raising the cup after their victory in the Pamoja Tutashinda tournament, Masisi, Democratic Republic of Congo (Danilo Giannese/JRS)
|This tournament has given students from various ethnic groups in displaced and local communities to come together and feel like brothers from one community.
Masisi, 14 September 2012 – Few activities in the world are as effective as sports in bridging differences, building community, or educating young people about peace. The JRS inter-school football tournament, 'Pamoja Tutashinda', or 'together we'll win' in Kiswahili, allowed for students, referees and spectators to forget about divisions between the local and displaced populations, about ethnic differences, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The football competition sent a clear message to the population: a united community is a stronger community.
The tournament. Over a period of four months, from March to July, 54 teams from as many secondary schools weathered muddy pitches throughout the Masisi district giving life to intense games. Despite a few inevitable objections from one team or another, the motto of the competition was fair play and honesty among students on the field.
In the weeks prior to the tournament, JRS staff offered training to coaches, referees and linesmen not only on tactics and offside rules but also on enforcing discipline and promoting fairness among players.
JRS provided uniforms, flags and whistles to the more than 50 referees and linesmen who presided over the more than 105 matches, in which 310 goals were scored and 26 red and 176 yellow cards were shown.
The winners wore orange jerseys of Côte d'Ivoire national team while their opponents wore the black and white of the renowned Congolese team, Tout Puissant Mazembe.
Sixteen-year-old girl Sifa Papay refereed the match with impeccable judgement that was applauded by players, coaches and the fans present.
"I am very happy with my refereeing and with having tried something so different. What was the thing that struck me the most? Feeling that men respected me and held me in esteem as a woman", said Sifa after the match.
Breaking down barriers.
Afterwards, local authorities, including Gabriel Bahati, the representative from the national ministry of education (Ecole Primaire Secondaire Professionel EPSP), were invited to the awards ceremony.
"This tournament has given students from various ethnic groups in displaced and local communities to come together and feel like brothers from one community. It is an example of how sport can break down barriers which divide our peoples. These activities also help the displaced put thoughts of the war and suffering in the back of their minds for a while", said Mr Bahati.
Now I can relate to you.
Bursting with joy after his team won the tournament, the captain of Birega, Innocent, was nominated as best player of the competition. Speakin after the match, he was eager to emphasise the influence the tournament has had on building community.
"Until yesterday a boy from another school or ethnic group was a stranger to me, a foreigner. Now I know we can live and play together, that we have so much to share and we are all part of the same family".
Parish priest, Théodore Mbuleki, was also keen to underline the importance of organising activities which bring eastern Congolese populations together while promoting integration of and respect towards the displaced.
"This place is full of people who have been displaced by the war. It is essential they don't feel abandoned and are aware that someone will take care of them. Seeing so many people of all ethnic groups participate in this tournament, seeing the fair play and friendship between students who live in the camps has not only filled me with enthusiasm, it pushes me to think we need to repeat the experience as much as possible", said the parish priest.
Formal education in Masisi.
The Pamoja Tutashinda competition was organised as part of the JRS formal education project in Masisi and in cooperation with the provincial directorate of EPSP. Initiated in 2010, this JRS project includes the construction and restoration of secondary schools, teacher and management training, and the distribution of educational materials. The project seeks to guarantee access to education, particularly for girls, and the integration of displaced students into the local school population.
Danilo Giannese, JRS Great Lakes Advocacy and Communications Officer
Syria: displaced Syrians struggle to find shelter
|A JRS makeshift classroom in Homs where up to 800 children are receiving educational support. Some children have not attended school for more than one year, Homs, Syria (JRS)
|Given the gravity of the situation on the ground, JRS hopes to establish a second field kitchen in Aleppo with your financial support.
Amman, 12 September 2012 – As the heat of summer fades and the school year recommences, the fate of displaced Syrians remains undecided. During the summer months, as fighting reached unprecedented levels, authorities allowed for tens of thousands of Syrians to take shelter inside schools. Now that the school year is upon us again, the question of what to do with displaced homeless people is on everyone's minds.
Many Syrians also seek refuge in public parks. However, neither schools nor parks are sustainable solutions, particularly for such large numbers, as they lack adequate amenities for survival.
Despite the emergency support JRS currently offers, the question of the ability of the organisation to provide adequate shelter in the coming months remains unanswered as the destruction of homes and basic infrastructure continues unabated.
Aleppo. Daily life in Aleppo is extremely precarious with regular food and fuel shortages, as well as electricity, telephone, and internet blackouts. Fighting takes place day and night, both via land and air. Therefore, there are very few safe places for people to take shelter and many are isolated from any support.
An estimated 60,000 people are believed to have found refuge in schools, mosques, and the Aleppo University campus.
Last month, JRS managed eleven schools in Aleppo that provided shelter for displaced persons. This month JRS has limited its services and caretaker responsibility to six schools, housing a total of 4,000 people. In addition, JRS provides internally displaced persons (IDPs) in five other schools with food baskets, non-food items and cash assistance.
JRS staff has continued to support 8,000 IDPs from Idlib and Homs by granting them food and household goods over the past three months. Most of these 8,000 had found their own accommodation in Aleppo, but due to the violence many have been forced to relocate again. Consequently, JRS has lost contact with many families and is in the process of re-connecting to follow-up on their present conditions.
The latest JRS emergency service is the field kitchen which ensures 5,000 people receive one hot meal and a basic food bag for breakfast and dinner each day. The food is distributed in JRS-supported schools, mosques, and other distribution points. The Syrian Red Crescent is also responsible for the distribution of food, but delivery is not always assured due to limited access to distribution points and the exceptional high demand. The World Food Programme has restarted their services after suspending them due to the violence in Aleppo.
Damascus. Shelling continues in neighbourhoods close to the two JRS centres. Recent bomb blasts occurred in Jaramana, a religious and socially mixed neighbourhood where many JRS- supported IDPs live.
Owing to the unpredictability of the violence, JRS has been regularly forced to close its centres temporarily, but as long as they can operate safely, they remain open. At the moment, up to 67 children attend the educational activities offered at the JRS centre in Dwelaa.
There is also a high demand for food support in Damascus leading to increasedlevels of fear and stress.
Homs. Recently there was a bombing close to the neighbourhood of Boustan al Diwan where the Jesuit residency is located.
Al Moukales and Al Waer centres inside Homs provide educational and psychosocial support for 800 children, including 15 young people with disabilities.
Al Ard Jesuit centre, outside of Homs, has become more isolated. Both the main road and back roads to Al Ard are increasingly dangerous and Al Ard is frequently targeted by rockets. Fifty people are currently living there, but at the end of September Al Ard will only offer shelter for short-term emergency purposes.
Jordan. While many people focus their attention on the 26,000 refugees in Za'atari, more than 50,000 refugees outside of the camp have registered with UN refugee agency (UNHCR). According to UNHCR, there are another nearly 75,000 refugees not registered with the agency.
Refugees living in local communities outside of the camps are also in need of support. JRS Jordan is conducting assessments to fill the gaps outside of the recently established Za'atari refugee camp in northern Jordan. In Amman, Syrian refugees comprise 25 percent of JRS services, including: informal education, family visits, and needs assessments conducted daily.
How you can help? As winter approaches, JRS is preparing to provide the necessary support, especially clothes and household goods, to displaced families. The average temperature in Syria drops to ten degrees Centigrade in winter, with rainfall and harsh winds. Many families have lost all their possessions and only own clothing suited for summer months.
Given the gravity of the situation on the ground, JRS hopes to establish a second field kitchen in Aleppo with your financial support.
- 70 euro: 100 litres of heating oil (for winter)
- 80 euro: a basic family kit: one mattress, two sheets, one pillow, two winter-blankets and two towels
- 100 euro: a food-basket for a five-person family for one month
- 120 euro: winter clothing for one family (pullover, jacket, trousers, shoes)
- 160 euro: one month's rent of an apartment for a displaced family
- 4,000 euro: one day support for the families sheltered in the schools in Aleppo
- 4,000 euro: cost of providing food for 10,000 people for one day
- 8,000 euro: the installation cost of the field kitchen
To help support the JRS emergency project, visit https://www.jrs.net/donate