Four child soldiers must not be executed by the government of
Congo, Human Rights Watch said today.
In a meeting today with the foreign minister of the Democratic
Republic of Congo, She Okitundu, Human Rights Watch urged the
government to spare the lives of the four children, who were
between fourteen and sixteen years of age at the time they were
arrested and sentenced to death.
Congo has executed at least one other child soldier, a
fourteen-year-old who was put to death shortly after being
sentenced in January 2000. The execution of individuals for crimes
committed below age eighteen violates the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of
the Child, international human rights treaties to which Congo is a
Congo's military routinely recruited and used child soldiers
under the late President Laurent Kabila. In June 2000, the
president announced that the armed forces would demobilize child
soldiers and reintegrate them into civil society. But Congo still
has approximately 12,000 child soldiers, according to the United
Nations Children's Fund.
"International law is clear: No one should be put to death for
a crime committed as a child," said Michael Bochenek, counsel to
the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "Congo
should immediately commute these death sentences and bring its
practices in line with international standards."
Iran, Nigeria, and the United States are the only other
countries known to have imposed the death penalty on juvenile
offenders. Iran executed a seventeen-year-old in 1999; Nigeria
carried out a death sentence against a seventeen-year-old in 1997
for an offense committed at the age of fifteen. The United States
has executed eight juvenile offenders since 1998.
Rehabilitation and reintegration into society are critical
issues for children that have participated in armed conflict.
Graša Machel, the U.N. Secretary-General's expert on the impact of
armed conflict on children, has pointed out that child soldiers
may be forcibly abducted, severely brutalized, and compelled to
participate in atrocities; they are rarely autonomous actors.
The death sentences against the four children were handed down
by Congo's Court of Military Order, which Human Rights Watch
criticized in a February 1999 report as failing to safeguard the
due process rights of those brought before it. Persons convicted
by the court have no right to appeal, and many executions are
carried out the same day or soon after the accused are sentenced.
The sole power to commute death sentences rests with President
Kabila, who has never used the authority. His father, the late
President Laurent Kabila, was known to have granted only two
pardons, one for a thirteen-year-old offender sentenced to death
The four children facing execution are Diyavanga Nkuyu,
fourteen at the time of his arrest; Bosey Jean-Louis, age fifteen
when arrested; and Mbumba Ilunga and Mwati Kabwe, arrested when
they were sixteen years of age.