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A life devoted to demobilizing child soldiers

11th Jul 2012

Victor Amisi

by Justine Lesage in New York City. Originally posted on the Control Arms blog.

Victor Amisi (below) is in New York, attending the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, to explain his daily reality. In what may seem like a world away, thousands of child soldiers are still mobilized in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

A massive program demobilized more than 35,000 children between 2006 and 2008, but even then the initial contingent was so enormous that the United Nations and NGOs continue to demobilize around 2000 every year.

Rwandan genocide

Thousands of refugees from Rwanda escaped to the DRC during the 1994 genocide, leading Victor Amisi to act in order to assure the basic needs of this extremely vulnerable population. With colleagues, Victor created the Research and Action Group Against Malnutrition (GRAM). In 1998, as the war intensified, many communities fled en masse from villages to find refuge in the city. Thousands of children found themselves abandoned in the streets and became an easy target for armed groups recruiting child soldiers, so GRAM started activities to report on cases of child soldiers in villages. 

The cause becomes personal

Victor is involved in the child soldier cause as his own family has been affected. His nephew, who is missing, is believed to have been recruited by armed groups. In 2003, Victor was invited to Europe to bear witness of his community's reality. When he came back from his awareness-raising tour, threats multiplied and materialized. On June 4th, Victor was home with his family when he heard people downstairs surrounding the house. 

"They broke the door down with a rocket launcher. Suddenly, I found myself on my knees, with a rifle pointing to my temple. I gave them everything I had. They were about to rape my sister-in-law and that drove me crazy. The man who threatened me with his weapons dropped a bullet on the floor and moved a step back. When he crossed the view of my two-year-old daughter hugging her doll he said: 'If I don't kill you, it's because of this kid. But you will probably be less lucky with the next ones'."

Escape and refugee status

Thanks to his international contacts, amongst which was Amnesty International, Victor and his family were able to escape and were hosted as political refugees in Kampala, until departing to Canada in 2006. In Ottawa, Victor founded his organization's Canadian branch, which became Vision GRAM-International. Today, he focuses his efforts on child soldiers and he is more engaged than ever with the Control Arms campaign, in order to ensure an Arms Trade Treaty that would prevent arms reaching the war lords who put them in the hands of children. Rather than frighten, his experiences have renewed his efforts. "You know," he says, "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger".