Wednesday, 22 November 2017

State Dept officials accuse Tillerson of violating law on child soldiers

State Dept officials accuse Tillerson of violating law on child soldiers
State Dept officials accuse Tillerson of violating law on child soldiers

WASHINGTON: A group of 12 US State Department officials have taken the unusual step of formally accusing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of violating a federal law designed to stop foreign militaries from enlisting child soldiers, according to internal government documents.
A confidential State Department dissent memo not previously reported said Tillerson breached the Child Soldiers Prevention Act when he decided in June to exclude Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a US list of offenders in the use of child soldiers.
This was despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were being conscripted in those countries.
Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with US military assistance. Iraq and Afghanistan are close allies in the fight against militants, while Myanmar is an emerging ally to offset China’s influence in Southeast Asia.
Documents also show Tillerson’s decision was at odds with a unanimous recommendation by the heads of the State Department’s regional bureaus overseeing embassies in the Middle East and Asia, the US envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the department’s human rights office and its own in-house lawyers.
Beyond contravening US law, this decision risks marring the credibility of a broad range of State Department reports and analyses and has weakened one of the US government’s primary diplomatic tools to deter armed forces and government-supported armed groups from recruiting and using children in combat and support roles around the world, said the July 28 memo.
The new documents reveal the scale of the opposition in the State Department, including the rare use of what is known as the dissent channel, which allows officials to object to policies without fear of reprisals.
The views expressed by the officials illustrate ongoing tensions between career diplomats and the former chief of Exxon Mobil Corp appointed by President Donald Trump to pursue an America First approach to diplomacy.
The child soldiers law passed in 2008 states that the US government “must be satisfied that no children under the age of 18 are recruited, conscripted or otherwise compelled to serve as child soldiers” for a country to be removed from the list. It currently includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Mali, Syria and Yemen.
“The Secretary thoroughly reviewed all of the information presented to him and made a determination about whether the facts presented justified a listing pursuant to the law,” a State Department spokesperson said when asked about the officials’ allegation that he had violated the law.
In a written response to the dissent memo on Sept 1, Rex Tillerson’s adviser Brian Hook acknowledged that the three countries did use child soldiers.
He said, however, it was necessary to distinguish between governments making little or no effort to correct their child soldier violations ... and those which are making sincere — if as yet incomplete — efforts.
Hook made clear that America’s top diplomat used what he sees as his discretion to interpret the law.
Foreign militaries on the list are prohibited from receiving aid, training and weapons from Washington unless the White House issues a waiver based on US national interest. Last year, under the Obama administration, both Iraq and Myanmar, as well as others such as Nigeria and Somalia, received waivers.
At times, the human rights community chided President Barack Obama for being too willing to issue waivers and exemptions, especially for governments that had security ties with Washington, instead of sanctioning more of those countries.

Human Rights Watch frequently criticized President Barack Obama for giving too many countries waivers, but the law has made a real difference, Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, wrote in June in a critique of Tillerson’s decision.

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