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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2610

U.S. takes hard-line on military forces, armed groups recruiting child soldiers

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 11 October (Asiantribune.com): Co-authored by Senator Barack Obama and authored and sponsored by his senior senator from Illinois, the United States has been forced to enact laws to arrest and prosecute foreign leaders of military forces and rebel armed groups in the U.S. soil who have recruited child soldiers in armed conflict regions in foreign countries.

The law went into effect on October 04 when President George W. Bush placed his signature.

Another law, Child Soldier Prevention Act is now in the pipeline of the U.S. Congress that will deny military assistance to governments that are aiding and abetting para-military groups involved in the recruitment of child soldiers.

The Child Soldiers Accountability Act, now law with the president’s signature, makes it a federal crime to recruit knowingly or to use soldiers under the age of 15 and permits the United States to prosecute any individual on US soil for the offense, even if the children were recruited or served as soldiers outside the United States. The law imposes penalties of up to 20 years, or up to life in prison if their action resulted in the child’s death. It also allows the United States to deport or deny entry to individuals who have knowingly recruited children as soldiers.

The legislation was introduced by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and adopted unanimously by both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate in September 2008.

A limitation to the current state of the law is that very few countries have criminalized the recruitment or use of child soldiers under their national criminal code. Here in the United States, the Federal Criminal Code currently does not address the issue of child recruitment, nor does it allow prosecution of an individual who has recruited or used child soldiers in another country and then attempts to take safe haven in this country.

The Child Soldier Accountability Act would address this gap. It would make it a federal crime to recruit or use child soldiers under the age of 15, and allow the prosecution of individuals for this crime, whether committed here or abroad by either US citizens or non-citizens present in the United States. The bill imposes penalties of up to 20 years to life in prison, and also allows the US to deport or deny entry to individuals who have recruited children as soldiers. The adoption of this legislation would provide an important avenue to hold these perpetrators accountable.

A Human Rights Watch statement quoted its children's right advocate Jo Becker as remarking, "The US is saying to the world that using child soldiers is a serious crime and that it will take action." He adds “Military commanders who use children can no longer come to the United States without the risk of ending up in jail." HRW has accused both Sri Lanka’s LTTE and its breakaway group the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) of recruiting children.

In Support of the "The Child Soldiers Accountability Act of 2007" at the Hearing in the US House Judiciary Subcommittee on 08 April 2008 Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch singled out many countries involved in the practice of child recruitment for combat purposes. Sri Lanka’s LTTE or Tamil Tigers was highlighted while in the same breath he accused Government of Sri Lanka aiding and abetting an LTTE-breakaway rebel group to engage in such practice.

Malinowski, at the Congressional testimony said: "Human Rights Watch has investigated the recruitment and use of children as soldiers in over a dozen countries since 1994. We have documented the recruitment of children as young as eight into both paramilitary and guerilla forces in Colombia, the kidnapping of children by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda, including the use of girls as sex slaves, and abduction of children by both the Tamil Tigers and government-linked armed groups in Sri Lanka’s escalating civil war."

"Human Rights Watch has conducted other investigations on the use of child soldiers in Angola, Burma, Burundi, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, D.R. Congo, Lebanon, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan. Our research has found that this is a global problem, affecting girls and boys on nearly every continent. The perpetrators include government armies, armed opposition groups, and paramilitaries and militias linked to government forces. No one knows the exact number of child soldiers, but the United Nations estimates there may be as many as 250,000 worldwide."

The recruitment and use of children as soldiers was recognized in 1998 as a war crime under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. In 2007, four former military commanders from Sierra Leone were convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for recruiting and using children as soldiers. Rebel and military commanders from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have also been charged under the International Criminal Court with recruiting and using child soldiers, though none have yet gone to trial.

In a statement issued on October 3, Senator Durbin said: “The United States must not be a safe haven for those who exploit children as soldiers. The use of children as combatants is one of the most despicable human rights violations in the world today and affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of boys and girls who are used as combatants, porters, human mine detectors and sex slaves. The power to prosecute and punish those who violate the law will send a clear signal that the U.S. will in no way tolerate this abhorrent practice.”

In addition to the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, Senator Durbin has introduced the Child Soldiers Prevention Act which would ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not used to support governments or government sanctioned military and paramilitary organizations that use children as combatants. The bill would allow for U.S. military assistance to continue but only if the assistance is used to remedy the problem by helping countries successfully demobilize their child soldiers and professionalize their forces.

As mentioned above and in many reports carried in Asian Tribune, apart from Tamil Tigers, the Government of Sri Lanka has been accused in US congressional documents, several US State Department pronouncements such as the Annual Human Rights Report and by human rights agencies of the United States of aiding and abetting the LTTE break-away Karuna-led TMVP to recruit child soldiers or the GSL’s failure to persuade them to refrain from such activities. The GSL has repeatedly dismissed those accusations in international forums.

If the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, which is now in the Congressional pipeline, becomes law Sri Lanka and many other countries can be denied of military assistance given by the United States at present.

Asian Tribune reported in previous reports based on US Appropriation Bills passed by Congress since 2005 that the U.S. has drastically reduced not only military assistance but also vital economic assistance to Sri Lanka.

Senator Durbin became the Chairman of the first ever congressional committee dealing specifically with human rights last January. That committee, the Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, has jurisdiction over all human rights law and polices, including genocide, human trafficking, war crimes and torture.

Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2007 still under consideration by the U.S. Congress:

• Prohibits, with a national interest waiver, funds appropriated or otherwise made available for specified military and related areas from being obligated or otherwise made available to the government of a country identified by the Department of State as having governmental armed forces or government supported armed groups, including paramilitaries, militias, or civil defense forces, that recruit or use child soldiers.

• Directs the Secretary of State to notify any government so identified.

• Authorizes the President to reinstate assistance upon certifying to Congress that a government is implementing: (1) compliance measures; and (2) mechanisms to prohibit future use of child soldiers and to ensure that no children are recruited, conscripted, or otherwise compelled to serve as child soldiers.

• Authorizes the President to provide assistance to a country for international military education and training otherwise prohibited under this Act upon certifying to Congress that such assistance is for programs that implement measures to demobilize child soldiers and for programs to support professionalization of the military.

The Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2007, sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), is designed to encourage governments to disarm, demobilize and rehabilitate child soldiers from government forces and government-supported militias. Using the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights as a barometer, this bill would place limits on the provision of U.S. International Military Education and Training, Foreign Military Financing and other defense-related assistance in our foreign operations programs for countries in violation of the bill’s standards.

Countries that are clearly identified in the Human Rights Report as recruiting or using child soldiers in government armed forces or government-supported paramilitaries or militias in violation of international standards would be eligible only for military assistance to address the issue of child soldiers and otherwise professionalize their armed forces until the problem is remedied.

Asian Tribune reproduces here the Section of the Child Soldier Prevention Act, now before the U.S. Congress, which spells out the prohibition of military assistance:

Sec. 5 . Prohibition

(a) In General- Subject to subsections (b), (c), and (d), none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available for international military education and training, foreign military financing, foreign military sales, direct commercial sales, or excess defense articles by the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2006 (Public Law 109-102) or any other Act making appropriations for foreign operations, export financing, and related programs may be obligated or otherwise made available to the government of a country that is clearly identified by the Department of State in the Department of State's most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices as having governmental armed forces or government supported armed groups, including paramilitaries, militias, or civil defense forces, that recruit or use child soldiers.

(b) Notification to Countries in Violation of the Standards of This Act- the Secretary of State shall formally notify any government identified pursuant to subsection (a).

The assistance programs that will be affected are; Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Direct Commercial Sales (DCS), Excess Defense Articles (EDA), International Military Education and Training (IMET), and Foreign Military Financing (FMF).

And, the countries already identified that could be potentially be affected are; Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Congo (Democratic Republic of), Cote d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Uganda.

Further, the other U.S. Legislation and Policy applied to child soldiers are; Section 502B (a) (3) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2304(a) (3)) provides that "the President is directed to formulate and conduct international security assistance programs of the United States in a manner which will promote and advance human rights and avoid identification of the United States, through such programs, with governments which deny to their people internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, in violation of international law or in contravention of the policy of the United States as expressed in this section or otherwise."

- Asian Tribune -

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