The RPF has used child soldiers known as “kadogo” or “little ones” for more than two decades now with no consequence for such a violation of international law, which Rwanda is signatory to. Recently, such a practice is beginning to catch up with authorities in Rwanda.
When I joined Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as a 19 year old in 1990, I was convinced that I was joining a movement to liberate my country and especially the people of Rwanda. We fought a 4 year war that ended when we routed the former government’s forces in July of 1994 at the end of the genocide that claimed nearly a million lives. We were proud of our achievement and looked forward to a country that followed the rule of law. However, a closer look at the RPF could have shown that rule of law was far from the reality of the RPF.
One of the most disturbing aspect of the RPF was the use of child soldiers known as “kadogo” or “little ones”. From the very first time I joined the RPF, there were children aged 15 and below, some as young as 11. After winning the Rwandan war, the RPF continued recruitement of children to provide troops to fight in the Congo when Rwanda invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996 and then again in 1998. Some were forcibly recruited after their families were killed in Congo, others from villages in Rwanda. Since 1996, Rwanda has maintained a presence in DRC and has been the main player in the deaths of more than 6 million innocent people since the invasion.
Recently, the United States, Rwanda’s strongest ally and one of its top donor nation suspended any military aid as a result of Rwanda’s use of child soldiers in Congo. The United States has credible evidence that Rwanda continues to support the M23 militia that has ravaged the north Kivu area of the DRC over the past year and a half. Part of that support includes recruitment of soldiers, many of whom are children; providing equipment, logistical support, as well as overall command from Rwanda’s defense ministry.
The European Union Must Act
The United States in particular and the international community have traditionally given the Rwandan government a pass on human rights abuses and atrocities in Congo and in Rwanda because of the international community’s inaction during the genocide in Rwanda. Today, the international community is growing more and more tired of Rwanda’s beligerance in the DRC and has started to Act. The removal of military aid is a step in the right direction by the United States. Children and the weak are the most vulnerable people in conflict areas and must be protected. In fact, nearly half of the 6 million casualties in Congo have been children under the age of 5. To forcibly recruit children fortunate enough to live beyond the age of 5 should not be tolerated.
Just as it followed suit last year when the United States suspended aid to Rwanda due to its support of the M23 militia, the European must once again introduce sanctions against the Rwandan government for its use of child soldiers in the DRC. The United States has set an example that will be helpful in ending the conflict in the Congo, if the European Union and other countries do the same. As someone who is has witnessed first-hand the use of child soldiers by the Rwandan government, I encourage the international community to put an end to this destructive practice by suspending all non-emergency aid to Rwanda until such practice ends.
Aloys Ruyenzi is a former body guard of Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame. He currently lives in exile and has testified in various cases at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, France and Spain.