White House will continue giving military aid to countries with child soldiers

White House will continue giving military aid to countries with child soldiers
A presidential determination announced by the White House on Monday will waive restrictions against aiding regimes that employ child soldiers and allow the United States to provide six African and Arab nations with military assistance.

The determination, authorized by President Barack Obama and addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, says that it is in the national interest of the US to waive the application of a provision of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 with respect to Chad, South Sudan and Yemen.

That provision, section 404(a), prohibits the US from providing assistance to or licensing the direct commercial sale of military equipment to the government of any country identified as having children under the age of 18 participating in armed operations.

Additionally, the White House has determined that it is in the best interest of the US if that prohibition is also waived in part with respect to the Democratic Republican of the Congo in order for America to continue providing International Military Education and Training (IMET) and nonlethal excess defense articles. The determination will also let the DRC receive licenses for direct commercial sales of nonlethal defense articles. The White House also said it is waiving sections of the CSPA so that the US can allow Somalia to buy nonlethal defense articles and receive IMET and the continued assistance from America under the Peacekeeping Operations authority “for logistical support and troop stipends.”

Presidential Determination, courtesy of Think Progress:

According to Think Progress writer Hayes Brown, the blanket waiver applied to Chad, South Sudan and Yemen will essentially allow those nations to receive as much military assistance as possible from the US, while Somalia and the DRC will only be granted lethal aid in support of peacekeeping missions currently underway in those countries.

The six nations that will benefit from the waiver make up the majority of a list of ten countries determined by the Department of State to be using children soldiers. Those that have been determined to employ children but are not having the prohibition waived are Burma (Myanmar), the Central African Republic, Sudan and Rwanda.

But despite the State Department’s awareness of those activities, this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has waived provisions of the CSPA — even with regards to those countries. Last October, Pres. Obama waived penalties against Libya, South Sudan and Yemen, and again provided a partial waiver for the DRC.

This week’s determination in fact marks the fourth consecutive year that Obama has lifted restrictions on a law only five years old.

When the White House announced its determination last year, Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch told Foreign Policy’s The Cable that "While the administration has stepped up its attention to child soldiers, it continues to squander the leverage it has through the Child Soldiers Prevention Act.”

"By giving waivers to nearly all of the countries that have been affected by the law, the president is telling military allies that ending the use of child soldiers is not that important,” said Becker, the director of the group’s children’s rights advocacy office.

On Monday this week, however, Becker authored a statement on the Human Rights Watch website applauding the Obama administration’s decision to scale back, in part, assistance to Somalia and the DRC — countries that were allowed to receive even greater aid from the US in years past.

The US government announced today it will withhold military assistance from four countries – the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Rwanda – because of their recruitment and use of child soldiers. This is a big improvement from previous years when the Obama administration routinely allowed governments to receive US military assistance even while they had child soldiers in their forces,” Becker wrote.

According to Becker, the White House’s stance to provide some countries with only some support may actually help remove those nations of children soldiers in the long run.

Last year we saw how the law could really work. The Obama administration announced it would withhold foreign military financing and training from a Congolese battalion until Congo signed an agreement with the United Nations to end its use of child soldiers. The Congo had been dragging its feet on signing the plan for seven years, but signed the plan only five days after the US announcement,” Becker wrote.

This year, the administration will withhold at least some assistance from four countries, not just one. This will put real pressure on these countries to take some serious steps to end their use of child soldiers,” she said. “The Obama administration’s attention to child soldiers is welcome, but there’s still more it can do to bring an end to this horrible practice.”

According to Becker, Yemen will be the recipient of more than $20 million foreign military financing from the US. In 2010, the Obama administration said it was necessary for the US to continue providing Yemen with assistance because cutting off funding would seriously jeopardize the Yemeni government's ability to conduct special operations and counterterrorism missions, and create a dangerous level of in the country and the region.”