(Washington, DC) - The Obama administration should make good on its pledge to work with recipients of US military assistance to end their use of child soldiers, four leading human rights and humanitarian organizations said in a letter to President Barack Obama released today.
Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations, and World Vision U.S. said that the Obama administration had failed to secure concrete progress from Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and Yemen in ending their use of child soldiers. In October 2010, Obama granted waivers to the four countries, allowing them to continue to receive US military assistance despite their use of child soldiers in violation of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008. The law went into force in 2010.
"We have been deeply disappointed to see no discernable progress by any of the four governments concerned as a result of US action," the groups said in their letter. "We have also been disappointed by the administration's failure to articulate its policy approach to this issue."
The organizations cited continuing use of child soldiers in each of the four countries that had received waivers. In the DRC, government forces retain hundreds of children in their ranks, and military officers charged with recruiting child soldiers have been promoted to high-ranking positions. In Chad, the army has recruited Sudanese refugee children and released only small numbers of child soldiers. In South Sudan, the Sudan People's Liberation Army has failed to implement a 2009 agreement to demobilize all children from its ranks, retaining several hundred children. In Yemen, government forces have used child soldiers, and the current uprising puts children at even greater risk of recruitment.
"Well-placed US pressure on countries using child soldiers could make a world of difference," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. "The Obama administration should make clear that without concrete progress in ending their use of child soldiers, Chad, South Sudan, Yemen, and the DRC will not be receiving US military assistance next year."
When the US government announced the waivers in October 2010, administration officials stated that the four countries had been "put on notice" and that the administration would work with the countries to achieve progress on the issue.
The organizations recommended that the Obama administration make high-level contact with all four governments to demand immediate action to end their use of child soldiers, or suspend outstanding military assistance for FY 2012, and upcoming aid in 2013.