GENEVA/KINSHASA, 6 June 2003 – Alarmed by recent reports that thousands of women and girls are being brutally raped, mutilated and killed in the Ituri province of Eastern Congo, UNICEF said today that all actors - political and military – must put an end to such acts.
“These attacks against innocent civilians are being committed with impunity” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “Those individuals and groups who are committing these horrific crimes must never forget they are accountable under international law. When the time comes, the world must hold them accountable.”
Children and women are being indiscriminately attacked, mutilated and killed. Much of the area’s basic infrastructure was destroyed last month, leaving the majority of the population without access to food, water, shelter and basic essential services.
An estimated 20,000 children and 20,000 women were displaced by the recent outbreak in fighting. Children have seen their mothers, fathers and siblings killed. They have witnessed brutal violence and live in constant fear.
Thousands of children, some younger than ten years old, were recently recruited and are being used as child soldiers by the various armed groups. Many of these children were forced to take part in horrific violence. Countless others have been killed or maimed in combat. As many as a third of the 30,000 fighters are children.
“The recruitment of child soldiers in this conflict is simply unacceptable” Bellamy stated. “These children are protected under international and Congolese law and must be immediately demobilized.”
While Bellamy commended the Security Council for its speedy decision to deploy a multi-national force to support the protection of civilians, she called on armed groups and governmental actors to immediately and unconditionally:
1. Halt all attacks, direct and indirect, against civilians;
2. Cease all recruitment of children, for any purpose, and immediately initiate the process of demobilization of all child soldiers;
3. Cease any further destruction of basic services and infrastructure;
4. Guarantee the security of the civilian populations in the areas under their control or influence;
5. Ensure the immediate cessation of child and human rights abuses. As a first step, immediately cease the targeting of civilians – the majority of whom are children and women;
6. Allow humanitarian actors full, safe and unhindered access to all vulnerable populations and guarantee their security in the areas under their control.
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For further information, please contact:
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva, (41) 22 909 5517, firstname.lastname@example.org
Joyce Brandful, UNICEF Media, Kinshasa, 243 88 46746, email@example.com
Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF Media, New York, (212) 326 726, firstname.lastname@example.org