Published: Tue, November 21, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

State Dept employees protest exclusion of violators from child soldiers list

State Dept employees protest exclusion of violators from child soldiers list

Around a dozen U.S. State Department officials have formally accused Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of violating the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, citing his recent decision to exclude Iraq, Afghanistan, and Myanmar from a list of nations now conscripting child soldiers despite his department's public acknowledgement that children have been used in combat by these nations.

Tillerson's decision on the child soldiers list ran contrary to assessments by the State Department's regional bureaus for the Middle East and Asia, the USA envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the department's human rights office, according to the dissent memo and other documents reviewed by Reuters.

"Beyond contravening USA law, this decision risks marring the credibility of a broad range of State Department reports and analyses", the July memo reads, "and has weakened one of the US government's primary diplomatic tools to deter governmental armed forced and government-supported armed groups from recruiting and using children in combat".

Approximately 12 State Department officials accused Tillerson of violating the law, which is meant to prevent foreign militaries from enlisting children, Reuters reported, citing global government documents. The possible reasoning, Reuters notes, may have to do with the Trump administration's ongoing campaign against the Islamic State (Iraq and Afghanistan) and its rhetorical strides against Chinese influence in Southeast Asia (Myanmar). According to The Guardian, 40 percent of child soldiers are girls.

However, she said Tillerson had reviewed all the evidence when deciding what countries to put on the offenders' list in June and did not agree that Iraq, Afghanistan and Myanmar merited inclusion. The memo also asserts that Tillerson's decision sends the message that minimal efforts are sufficient and that "we as a government are not interested in upholding worldwide norms, nor in holding countries accountable for ongoing abuses against children".

In this year's report, the State Department ultimately singled out eight countries: The Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The officials also criticized Tillerson for rejecting recommendations from senior staff that Afghanistan be added to the list. "While presidential waivers by the Obama administration undermined the effectiveness of the law, the list itself was generally accurate and fact-based", a Human Rights Watch blog post reads. The law requires that the United States create an annual list that shows countries now using child soldiers.

"The Child Soldiers Prevention Act gives the president some discretion in applying sanctions against countries using child soldiers", Becker concluded, "but it doesn't give the State Department discretion to take off countries that belong on the list".

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