Arusha, May 16, 2012 (FH) – In a statement issued on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda, who mutinied against the Democratic Republic of Congo in early April 2012 of forcibly recruiting child soldiers into his forces.

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“Gen. Bosco Ntaganda has forcibly recruited at least 149 boys and young men into his forces since April 19,” HRW claimed after interviewing witnesses and vicitms. 

The child soldiers were recruited from “around Kilolirwe, Kingi, Kabati, and other locations on the road to Kitchanga, in Masisi, North Kivu province, between April 19 and May 4,” according to HRW. “At least 48 were children under age 18, of whom 17 were under age 15”, it further said.

Any recruitment by armed groups of children under the age of 18 is prohibited by an international treaty ratified by Congo. The ICC treaty makes the recruitment of children under 15 a war crime.

On May 14, 2012, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, requested for expansion of charges against Ntaganda to include crimes against humanity and war crimes for murder, persecution, rape, sexual slavery, and pillaging in connection with his activities in Ituri in 2002-2003.

Such crimes, he said in his statement, were committed over a large geographical area within Ituri, Eastern DRC, during the period of September 2002 to September 2003.

An arrest warrant was already issued by the ICC in 2006 for Ntaganda for enlisting and conscripting children under 15 in a rebel movement in Ituri. In March 2012, the ICC convicted warlord Thomas Lubanga on similar charges.

Despite the ICC warrant, the Congolese government integrated Ntaganda, a former leader of the Forces patriotiques pour la liberation du Congo (FPLC), into its army in 2009 under a peace deal in which he received Kinshasa's protection for his arrest and promoted him to the rank of general.

But in early April, 2012, several senior military and former members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) led by Ntaganda defected from the army and regrouped as a rebel force, citing unpaid salaries and inhumane living conditions, among other complaints.