(New York) - The United States should suspend military assistance to countries using child soldiers, Human Rights Watch said today.
On June 27, 2011, the US State Department released a list of six governments that use child soldiers in violation of US legislation adopted in 2008: Burma, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Five of the countries - excluding Burma - receive US military assistance.
"The US strategy of just telling countries to stop using child soldiers is not working," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. "So long as they keep getting US military assistance, these countries have little incentive to stop recruiting children."
The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 prohibits governments using child soldiers from receiving US foreign military financing, military training, and several other categories of US military assistance. The six countries identified in the new 2011 Trafficking in Persons report for using child soldiers were all included in the first State Department list in June 2010. In October, President Barack Obama issued national interest waivers to allow Chad, Congo, Sudan, and Yemen to continue to receive military aid despite their use of child soldiers.
Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration not to issue blanket waivers to countries violating the Child Soldiers Prevention Act unless the governments sign agreements with the United Nations to end their use of child soldiers and take concrete steps to implement these agreements.
The administration contends that the military assistance it provides to Somalia is peacekeeping assistance that is not covered by the law. On June 22, Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and John Boozman of Arkansas introduced legislation that would amend the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to prohibit peacekeeping operations assistance to governments of countries that recruit and use child soldiers.
In Congo, government forces actively recruit children and have hundreds of children in their ranks. The government has promoted military officers who have been charged - or even convicted - with using child soldiers and has failed to cooperate with the United Nations in finalizing a plan to end its recruitment and use of child soldiers.
In Southern Sudan, which will gain independence from Sudan in July, the Sudan People's Liberation Army has continued to recruit children, according to credible reports received by Human Rights Watch. It has also failed to carry out fully a 2009 agreement to demobilize all children from its ranks.
Yemeni government forces have recruited children as young as 14 and government-affiliated militia have also used children as soldiers.
In Chad, a February 2011 report issued by the UN secretary-general documented ongoing recruitment of children by the Chadian army, including the recruitment of Sudanese refugee children. The government signed an agreement with the UN on June 14 committing itself to end all child recruitment, to release all children from its military and security forces, and to allow UN monitoring of its military installations.
The Chad agreement is a positive step, but progress in other countries has been too slow, Human Rights Watch said.
"Congress was clear in its intent that the US should not be militarily assisting governments that use child soldiers in their forces," Becker said. "Last year the administration gave these governments a pass. It shouldn't do so again."