The on going operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) by the DR Congo – Rwanda joint forces, has unravelled child abuses in the camps of FDLR. The activities inside FDLR have been obscure until the rebels were dislodged from their 15-year-old safe haven in the DR Congo.
These camps were not only no go zones for the international community but the DR Congo government as well. When one scrutinizes the returnees from DR Congo today, there is no doubt that FDLR/Interahamwe militias, sexually, physically and emotionally abused children.
“I was forced into sex at 14 by an armed man who is now my husband. I actually do not know my exact age; it could be less or more,” says Sefa Tuyubahe (approximately 20 years old).
Tuyubahe represents many who have suffered silently in the FDLR camps. Her so-called husband, Hakizimana Evodde like the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army rebel leader Joseph Kony, picked her from among the many at the camp he commanded.
Without attaching any significance he tells the circumstances under which he ‘married’ Tuyubahe.
“My wife was one of the people under my command. She was about 15 years old when I ‘married’ her. I am her sole caretaker since she is an orphan,” he narrates.
This former FDLR rebel shamelessly, probably due to the effect of living in the jungles, tells how he defiled and married a young girl.
In other words, he lived under no rule of law. Under the FDLR survival for the fittest was the rule. Children therefore were the biggest victims of such a rule.
Unfortunately, their plight was confined within the jungles, and nothing was exposed to the rest of the world, until the operation to oust them from the jungles commenced.
It is very disturbing to find a baby faced mother breast-feeding another baby. This seems to have been the order of the day in the FDLR camps as girls as young as 11 were forced to become wives and ultimately gave birth to young ones.
“I was ‘married’ at the age of 11 or 12 to one soldier. My first baby is now 4 years. I have three children and I do not know where their fathers are now. Maybe I will see them (the fathers) one day,” says a vividly traumatized ‘young woman’ of 19.
“I gave birth at the age of 12. My son is now 4 years and I am 16 years old,” says a seemingly resigned mother.
The on going operation in the jungles of Congo therefore should be seen beyond just ending the war. It should also be directed towards saving children held in the camps of FDLR as a matter of urgency!
There is then of course the issue of children as young as 12 or less forced to be part of the FDLR combatants.
“I am now 29 years but started fighting when I was 14. A number of my age mates were advised by our commanders to join the army so that we could defend ourselves. Now I have had a lot of combat experience in different areas,” reflects Sergeant Olive Tunda (29).
It is therefore imperative that all peace lovers join hands in the fight against FDLR who continue terrorising the silent victims, the children their hostages.
The many young men and women seem to have the urge to return home to freedom but seem bound by the old whose guilt consciences make returning the last thing on their minds.
A man or woman, who is 30 today, might understandably have little knowledge about the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. For obvious reasons, those over 30 in the FDLR are afraid because of their role in the genocide.
At this point, what is important therefore is the need to create an environment that gives space for the hostages to unmask themselves from the ‘fog’ and fight their way out.
The DRC-Rwanda joint operation has to push harder so that FDLR activities end as soon as possible.