By Ryan T. Elliott
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America/Oceania
WASHINGTON, D.C., United States–For the second consecutive year, President Obama has waived a ban on military aid for countries that use children soldiers. Under the U.S. Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which took effect in 2010, there is a federal ban on providing U.S. foreign military financing, military training, and other military aid to countries that recruit and enlist soldiers under the age of eighteen.
The president holds the power, however, to waive this ban, but only if he or she determines that doing so would serve the best interests of the country. That is precisely what President Obama did last Tuesday for the second straight year in a row. According to a memorandum released by the White House on Tuesday, the countries that will continue to receive military assistance despite the fact that they continue to use of child soldiers in their armed forces, include: Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen and South Sudan.
“The law [restricting U.S. taxpayer funds to go to militaries that recruit and use child soldiers] could be very effective if it was applied the way Congress intended, but instead the administration has chosen to disregard the law and exert poor leadership on this issue,” Jo Becker, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Children Rights Division, told ABC News. “Last year, the administration said they were putting governments on notice and giving them time to address the problem, but this year governments have shown no progress and are still getting assistance [with] no strings attached.”
Last year there were five countries that were identified for their use of child soldiers, and they included: Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Somalia, and Myanmar. This year, only Somalia and Burma were not given waivers, presumably because the U.S. military does not have strong military ties with these countries. President Obama’s waiver will allow tens of millions of dollars of U.S. tax dollars to to go to Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and South Sudan, all of which continue to recruit, enlist and use children soldiers
The administration justified the waivers either in terms of the relevant countries progress with respect to reducing child soldiers or, in the case of Yemen, the country’s importance to anti-terrorism efforts.
South Sudan is expected to receive one hundred million dollars this coming year for military aid. The administration took the position that the law banning military aid to countries with child soldiers should not apply to South Sudan because it did not exist as an independent country until after the publication of the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
Meanwhile, the administration noted the progress in Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo in addressing child soldiers. In Chad, the government had issued a plan to prevent child recruitment and discharge child soldiers who are currently enlisted. It has been said that Chad has already taken some steps towards this programs implementation. The administration said that the Democratic Republic of Congo has also taken some very important steps to reduce child soldiers in the military.
Finally, Yemen has received the most criticism from human right advocates because it continues to receive U.S. military aid despite the fact that it has done very little to reduce the amount of children in its armed forces. In fact, it is well documented that in Yemen, children who are 15 years old and younger have been recruited to fight in the government’s conflicts. Yet Yemen continues to receive millions of dollars in U.S. military and counter-terrorism assistance.
The administration justified this aid by stating that “[c]ooperation with the Yemeni government is a vital piece of the U.S. national strategy to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents by denying them sanctuary in the ungoverned spaces of Yemen’s hinterland.” Accordingly, for the 2012 fiscal year the State Department has requested thirty five million dollars in foreign military financing for the Yemeni government. This represents only a portion of the total aid the Yemeni government is expected to receive, which has exceeded one hundred million dollars in past years.
While the administration has fallen back on the position that they cannot simply withdraw all of this military support, Jo Becker, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Children Rights Division, told ABC News that this does not have to be an “all or nothing “ approach and that “thirty five thousand dollars is a lot of money.” Becker suggested that the administration could simply withhold a portion of the funds until the country in question takes the necessary steps in order to remove children from its forces.
“The Obama administration has been unwilling to make even small cuts to military assistance to governments exploiting children as soldiers,” Jo Becker told ABC News, and “children are paying the price for its poor leadership.”
For more information, please see:
Albany Times Union – Should America Aid Nations With Child Soldiers? – 7 October 2011
AllGov – Obama Administration Urged to Stop Funding Child Soldiers – 6 October 2011
Black Entertainment Television – Obama Administration Waives Child Soldier Law – 6 October 2011
ABC News – Obama Waives Child Soldier Ban in Yemen and Congo – 5 October 2o11
Democracy Now – Obama Waives Curbs on Aid to Countries Using Child Soldiers 5 October 2011
Foreign Policy – Congress Strikes Back Against Obama’s Child Soldiers’ Waivers – 5 October 2011
Inter Press Service – Obama Waives Aid Curbs on Militaries Using Child Soldiers -5 October 2011