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Human Rights Watch’s Jo Becker: The U.S. Can Do More to Keep Children Off the Battlefield

[This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post on 10/04/2012]

President Barack Obama announced on Friday that, for the second year in a row, it was withholding portions of U.S. military assistance from the Democratic Republic of Congo because of its continued use of child soldiers. The U.S. also said it wouldn’t train a Congolese light infantry battalion until Congo signed an action plan with the United Nations to end its use of child soldiers. U.S. officials have repeatedly urged the Congolese government to address the issue.

The pressure seems to be working. After seven years of foot-dragging, today Congo finally signed the U.N. plan, which will require Congo to end child recruitment, demobilize children in its forces and allow U.N. verification visits to its barracks.

For years, Congo has ranked among the worst countries for child soldiers. At the height of the conflict there, the U.N. estimated that as many as 30,000 children were participating in the war. Today, hundreds each year are still recruited in eastern Congo, by both government and rebel forces. Children who have escaped or been released often fear they will be forced into service again.

The U.S. has withheld assistance from Congo under a landmark law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits U.S. military assistance to governments using child soldiers. In contrast it has, often on national security grounds, allowed other governments using child soldiers to continue receiving such aid, without conditions. Three examples — Chad, South Sudan and Yemen — show how the U.S. has missed opportunities to protect children from military service.

In Chad, government and rebel forces recruited thousands of children in a proxy war with Sudan that ended in early 2010. With U.S. pressure, the Chadian government signed a U.N. action plan in June 2011 to end child recruitment and demobilize all children from its forces. Child recruitment significantly dropped, with no new cases recorded in 2011. In June, the U.S. took Chad off its list of countries subject to possible sanctions under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, despite reports that children remained in Chad’s forces.

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New Law Aims To Shine Light On Conflict Metals

By: Michele Kelemen

December 20, 2011

Delly Mawazo Sesete wants American consumers to know what is in their smart phones, computers and other electronics and where U.S. companies like Apple are getting those rare metals.

Sesete says that, without knowing, consumers in the U.S. could be fueling conflicts in Eastern Congo. The human rights activist is from a remote part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where armed groups are wreaking havoc and get much of their funding from mining rare metals.

“All the money that armed groups get from that exploitation is used to buy weapons and other ammunition so that they may cause injury to people … men slaughtered, pillage, rape of women and young girls,” he says.

Some of Sesete’s own family members have been forced from their homes in mineral rich areas of eastern Congo. The country’s riches, he says, have been a curse. Read more

The US Blinks, and Children Will Suffer

[Blog, originally from the Huffington Post]

Jo Becker
Children’s Rights Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 9, 2010 10:07 AM

Until recently, the United States might have been considered a world leader in combating the use of child soldiers. But after events last month, children victimized in war may need to look elsewhere for help.
The United States has spent millions of dollars supporting the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in countries like Afghanistan, Colombia, and Sierra Leone. It enacted groundbreaking legislation enabling the United States to prosecute child soldier recruiters entering the United States, and to withhold US military assistance from governments that use child soldiers. In 2002, it joined an important international treaty that prohibits the use of children under 18 as combatants. It even changed its military deployment practices to set a good example. These actions put it on the forefront of international efforts to end one of the most heinous aspects of modern warfare.
But last month President Obama issued an order allowing US military assistance to governments that use child soldiers, undermining a law he voted for as a Senator just two years ago. Also last month, the US became the first Western nation since World War II to convict a former child soldier of war crimes.

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Harvard Crimson Editorial Board: Reject Those Who Exploit Children (op-ed)

[A recent editorial regarding the Obama Administration’s military aid policies]
Reject those who exploit children
By: Harvard Editorial Board
Posted: 11/11/10
Despite its early remonstrance of perceived human-rights violations such as Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration took a step backward last week by issuing a waiver that will allow the continuation of military aid to four countries that openly employ child soldiers.

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