Former DRC Child Soldier Wins Asylum

June 9, 2011

On June 9, Cleary Gottlieb won asylum for Ms. S., a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the age of 12, Ms. S. was kidnapped at gunpoint from her family and forcibly conscripted into the Mai Mai militia, a rebel group that physically and sexually assaulted her, deprived her of food, and subjected her to involuntary servitude for almost three years. After a local human rights organization helped secure Ms. S.’s release from her captives, she became a passionate advocate against gender crimes, speaking at a United Nations Conference as well as at The Hague.

News of Ms. S.’s activism reached the Mai Mai, who threatened her parents and siblings, prompting them to flee their village and making it unsafe for Ms. S. to return. Shortly thereafter, Cleary Gottlieb assisted Ms. S. in filing for asylum based on her social group and political views. However, the Department of Homeland Security placed Ms. S.’s application on hold for almost three years, based on a strict application of a statutory bar to asylum for anyone who has engaged in or provided material support to a terrorist organization. During this time, Cleary Gottlieb attempted to secure immigration relief for Ms. S. using several alternative approaches, including petitioning for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status as well as advocating for a personal exemption to the bar by sending formal requests to various administrative offices and by appealing directly to the Secretary of the DHS and to elected federal officials. In January, the Secretary of the DHS issued a limited exemption for asylum seekers who, like Ms. S., had been conscripted into a terrorist organization against their will and had provided involuntary support under duress. Based on this exemption and subsequent implementing guidelines, Ms. S. was granted asylum in June.

Ms. S. was referred to Cleary Gottlieb by Human Rights First, a non-profit international human rights organization based in New York and Washington, D.C.