U.S. diplo­mats ac­cuse Tiller­son of break­ing child sol­diers law

Weekend Mirror - - CHILDREN’S CORNER -

A group of about a dozen U.S. 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 doc­u­ments re­viewed by Reuters.

A con­fi­den­tial State Depart­ment “dis­sent” memo, which Reuters was first to re­port on, said Tiller­son breached the Child Sol­diers Pre­ven­tion Act when he de­cided in June to ex­clude Iraq, Myan­mar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of of­fend­ers in the use of child sol­diers. This was de­spite the depart­ment pub­licly ac­knowl­edg­ing that chil­dren were be­ing con­scripted in those coun­tries. [http://tm­snrt.rs/2jJ7­pav]

Keep­ing the coun­tries off the an­nual list makes it eas­ier to pro­vide them with U.S. mil­i­tary as­sis­tance. Iraq and Afghanistan are close al­lies in the fight against Is­lamist mil­i­tants, while Myan­mar is an emerg­ing ally to off­set China’s in­flu­ence in South­east Asia.

Doc­u­ments re­viewed by Reuters 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 U.S. en­voy on Afghanistan and Pak­istan, the depart­ment’s hu­man rights of­fice and its own in-house lawyers. [http://tm­snrt.rs/2Ah6tB4] “Be­yond con­tra­ven­ing U.S. law, this de­ci­sion risks mar­ring the cred­i­bil­ity of a broad range of State Depart­ment re­ports and analy­ses and has weak­ened one of the U.S. govern­ment's pri­mary di­plo­matic tools to de­ter govern­men­tal 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.

State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert, ques­tioned at length by re­porters on the is­sue at her daily brief­ing, strongly de­fended Tiller­son's de­ci­sion as valid and in "tech­ni­cal com­pli­ance with the law in the way he read it."

"No one in the United States govern­ment likes the idea of the use of child sol­diers," she said. "It's ab­hor­rent.

Reuters re­ported in June that Tiller­son had dis­re­garded in­ter­nal rec­om­men­da­tions on Iraq, Myan­mar and Afghan- is­tan. 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 U.S. 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.

IN­TER­PRET­ING THE LAW

The child sol­diers law passed in 2008 states that the U.S. 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. The statute ex­tends specif­i­cally to govern­ment mil­i­taries and govern­ment-sup­ported armed groups like mili­tias.

The list cur­rently in­cludes the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Nige­ria, So­ma­lia, South Su­dan, Mali, Su­dan, Syria and Ye­men.

In a writ­ten re­sponse to the dis­sent memo on Sept. 1, Tiller­son 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.” 'A POW­ER­FUL MES­SAGE'

For­eign mil­i­taries on the list are pro­hib­ited from re­ceiv­ing aid, train­ing and weapons from Wash­ing­ton un­less the White House is­sues a waiver based on U.S. “na­tional in­ter­est.” In 2016, 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 group's chil­dren’s rights divi­sion, wrote in June in a cri­tique of Tiller­son’s de­ci­sion. (Reuters)

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