Reuters is reporting that about a dozen State Department officials are charging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of violating a federal law that is meant to prevent foreign governments from using child soldiers.
A confidential State Department “dissent” memo not previously reported said Tillerson breached the Child Soldiers Prevention Act when he decided in June to exclude Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of offenders in the use of child soldiers. This was despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were being conscripted in those countries.[tmsnrt.rs/2jJ7pav]
Apparently, leaving those nations off the list makes it possible to supply those nations with U.S. military aid. Because Iraq and Afghanistan are allies in fighting ISIS and the Myanmar is seen as a potential ally to get the foot in the door with Southeast Asia and offset China’s influence, these nations were left off by Tillerson, as a bargaining chip.
The problem, however, is that it seems he went rogue on this decision.
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. [tmsnrt.rs/2Ah6tB4]
“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,” said the July 28 memo.
The officials who have brought these charges against Tillerson used something called the “dissent channel” and it allows them to voice objections without fear of reprisal.
It’s rarely used, but that could be because of the nature of the State Department’s makeup, now. A seasoned, or at least reasonably experienced diplomat is not in control, anymore. This guy was an Exxon CEO. He knew business and had foreign connections because of his business. That’s pretty much the extent of it.
So what is the law regarding child soldiers?
The child soldiers law passed in 2008 states that the U.S. government must be satisfied that no children under the age of 18 “are recruited, conscripted or otherwise compelled to serve as child soldiers” for a country to be removed from the list. It currently includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Mali, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
”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 said when asked about the officials’ allegation that he had violated the law.
In a written response to the dissent memo on Sept. 1, Tillerson adviser Brian Hook acknowledged that the three countries did use child soldiers. He said, however, 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.”
So Tillerson based his decision on what he saw as efforts to end the practice of using child soldiers?
It’s not like it’s unheard of.
The Obama administration issued waivers to Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria and Somalia in 2016. The White House can grant waivers to the child soldier law, if they see it as important to “national interests.”
Those waivers allow for the U.S. to give assistance and training to those foreign militaries.
The dissenting U.S. officials stressed that Tillerson’s decision to exclude Iraq, Afghanistan and Myanmar went a step further than the Obama administration’s waiver policy by contravening the law and effectively easing pressure on the countries to eradicate the use of child soldiers.
The officials acknowledged in the documents reviewed by Reuters that those three countries had made progress. But in their reading of the law, they said that was not enough to be kept off a list that has been used to shame governments into completely eradicating the use of child soldiers.
Ranking Democrat with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, reached out to Tillerson on Friday, expressing “serious concerns” that the State Department was not complying with the law. He also questioned if Tillerson was sending a message to those countries, suggesting that they were getting a pass.
And there’s apparently not a lot that can be done about it.
Herman Schwartz, a constitutional law professor at American University in Washington, said U.S. courts would be unlikely to accept any challenge to Tillerson’s interpretation of the child soldiers law as allowing him to remove a country from the list on his own discretion.
The signatories to the document were largely senior policy experts with years of involvement in the issues, said an official familiar with the matter. Reuters saw a copy of the document that did not include the names of those who signed it.
It’s not as if Tillerson didn’t have the information. It’s just what he decided to do with what he had.
A week previous to his decision he’d received a memo from senior diplomats, all in agreement that the evidence gathered in 2016 showed these nations in violation, and they recommended they be included on the list.
Again, this was a Tillerson decision.
According to the memo sent to Tillerson:
It noted that in Iraq, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations “reported that some Sunni tribal forces … recruited and used persons younger than the age of 18, including instances of children taking a direct part in hostilities.”
The head of Iraq’s High Committee for Human Rights, Ali Kareem, has claimed a “clean slate” in child recruitment issues.
The memo also said “two confirmed cases of child recruitment” by the Myanmar military “were documented during the reporting period.” Human rights advocates have estimated that dozens of children are still conscripted there.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay challenged accusers to provide details of where and how child soldiers are being used. He noted that in the latest State Department report on human trafficking, “they already recognized (Myanmar) for reducing of child soldiers” – though the report also made clear some children were still conscripted.
Afghanistan was also noted in the memo, in regards to “credible evidence” that government-supported militia had recruited and used a child, meeting a minimum threshold for making the list.
Afghan defense and interior ministries deny any use of children in their national security forces, but human rights groups and the State Department’s own reporting says otherwise.
It’s not likely that there will be any penalty for Tillerson, but there are so many ways that this could come back to haunt him, later.