US State Department has dropped Iraq and Myanmar from a child soldiers’ blacklist in its annual people trafficking report, despite multiple reports of continuous usage of children in armies and militias, and human rights activists’ outcry.
The annual Trafficking in Persons Report unveiled by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and senior president’s advisor and daughter Ivanka Trump on Tuesday, left out Iraq and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) off the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List.
“By leaving out Burma and Iraq, the State Department is denying facts on the ground. The government of Burma released over 60 children from its ranks just last Friday and there are continued new reports of children being recruited by the national armed forces,” the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Jo Becker told RT.
“Human Rights Watch has documented recruitment of children by militia units in Iraq throughout 2016. The United Nations has said itself that children fighting in these military units have been killed while fighting against ISIS.
“So the new list is unfortunately a lie,” she added.
The annual report, however, acknowledged that “children remain highly vulnerable to forcible recruitment and use by multiple armed groups operating in Iraq, including – but not limited to – ISIS [Islamic State], the PMF [People’s Mobilization Forces], tribal forces, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and Iran-backed militias.”
Recently, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that some 100,000 children remain trapped in “extremely dangerous” conditions in and around the last ISIS-controlled section of Mosul, Iraq. Minors there have been used not only as human shields, but are also forced to fight on behalf of Islamic State terrorist group, UNICEF said.
In 2016, HRW cited reports alleging that the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and tribal forces also recruited and used child soldiers.
Washington’s decision has caused an outrage among human rights activists, whilst Reuters reported on the changes several days before the report’s unveiling, citing several unnamed US government officials.
Tillerson reportedly personally overruled State Department officials along with senior US diplomats and ordered the two countries to be removed from the list.
“Taking Burma and Iraq off the list when they continue to use child soldiers is both contrary to US law and harms children still in the ranks,” Jo Becker said. “Secretary of State Tillerson apparently believes the list is subject to backroom political calculations, rather than facts on the ground and US law.”
Becker added: “Unless Tillerson reverses this action, he will gravely damage US credibility in ending the use of children in warfare.”
Tillerson also dismissed the State Department’s proposal to add Afghanistan to the list, Reuters reported. Afghanistan has previously evaded the watch list, despite reports on alleged child recruitment by the Afghan Local Police militia to fight against the Taliban.
Rwanda was also dropped from the list, while Mali was added to it. All the other countries, namely the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, retained their placements.
Under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, the US government must be sure that no children are in any way compelled to serve as child soldiers for a country to be removed from the watch list and become eligible to receive US military assistance.
The “child soldier” definition under this law, apart from active combat duty includes “support roles” such as “cook, porter, messenger, medic, guard, or sex slave.”
A country on the list, however, can receive a presidential waiver if it’s deemed necessary for US “national interests.”
Former President Barack Obama was criticized by human rights groups for having handed out full or partial waivers, diminishing potential effectiveness of the Act. In 2016, Obama waived restrictions on most of then-listed countries, leaving only Sudan, Syria, and Yemen fully sanctioned in terms of military assistance to its governments, HRW has said.