Nearly a dozen U.S. State Department officials have accused their boss Secretary Rex Tillerson of breaching American law by excluding Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of countries that turn a blind eye to the abhorrent use of child soldiers, reports Reuters, citing internal government documents.
Reuters notes that keeping the countries off the child soldiers prevention list made it easier for U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to provide military assistance to Iraq and Afghanistan in their fight against Islamic terrorism and to bolster Myanmar’s ability push back against China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia.
“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,” declared the State officials in a July 28 “dissent” memo, reports Reuters, describing the accusations as “unusual.”
The State Department acknowledged that Tillerson had disregarded internal recommendations on the use of child soldiers by Iraq, Afghanistan, and Myanmar.
“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 told Reuters on condition of anonymity when asked about the alleged violation.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban uses child soldiers to kill members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) by exploiting the officers’ affinity for child sex slaves — the prevalent centuries-old pedophilic custom of bacha bazi, or “playing with boys.”
The U.S.-funded ANDSF, which includes army and police units, also employs child soldiers.
In a written response to the “dissent” memo, Tillerson adviser Brian Hook conceded that the three countries in question did use child soldiers.
Nevertheless, he added that “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.'”
The State officials explicitly accused Tillerson of violating the Child Soldiers Prevention Act after the department publicly acknowledged that Iraq, Afghanistan, and Myanmar had conscripted children.
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.
According to the Child Soldiers Act, enacted in 2008, removing a country from the list of offenders is contingent upon the satisfaction of the United States that no children under the age of 18 “are recruited, conscripted or otherwise compelled to serve as child soldiers.”
Among the listed offenders, as approved by Tillerson, are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Mali, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.