Technology & Trade
Commentary

US still arming African governments that use child soldiers

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By Rachel Stohl and Jessica Kosmider: 

Fifty heads of state from African governments are meeting to conclude the U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, DC today. Yet missing from the agenda seems to be an essential conversation concerning U.S. military assistance to abusive regimes or those that undermine democratic principles – including to those that use or support the use of child soldiers. The U.S. State Department has identified six African governments that use or support the use of child soldiers, as well as three other non-African governments around the world. The United States provides military assistance to all but two of these nine governments and to five of the six identified African governments.

Although there is widespread international condemnation of the use of child soldiers, the continued use by government forces pushed the United States to take action against the practice in the late 2000s. In 2008, Congress passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA). The bill was intended to prevent much desired U.S. arms transfers and military training to governments that use child soldiers in their national militaries or in government-supported armed groups. In doing so, the United States would incentivize these culprit states to stop the unlawful and inhumane practice in their armed forces and any government-affiliated militaries. The law only applies to specific categories of military assistance under both the State and Defense Department accounts. However, under specific circumstances, the president may elect to waive the prohibitions, in part or in full, and permit military assistance to flow without delay.

In order to identify the countries using child soldiers in their national armies or government-supported armed groups, the State Department annually reports on the use of child soldiers in its Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). As required by the CSPA, the Secretary of State must include in its annual TIP Report a list of foreign governments that have violated the standards outlined in the Act.

The CSPA prohibits US military assistance from the following funds, unless a waiver is granted:

1.      International Military Education and Training (IMET): IMET provides grants for members of foreign governments (civil servants) and militaries to participate in any of more than 2,000 courses in U.S. military management and technical training.

2.      Foreign Military Financing (FMF): FMF provides grants to foreign governments that are used to purchase weapons, training, and other defense articles and services from the United States

3.      Direct Commercial Sales (DCS): Direct Commercial Sales are arms sales concluded between U.S. weapons manufacturers and foreign clients managed and licensed by the State Department.

4.      Foreign Military Sales (FMS): Foreign Military Sales are government-to-government sales negotiated by the Pentagon, in which the weapons come from existing Pentagon stocks or new production;

5.      Excess Defense Articles (EDA): The United States provides Excess Defense Articles, surplus or obsolete U.S. weapons to foreign governments and partner countries at a reduced price or as a grant.

6.      Section 1206: The Defense Department is allowed to use a maximum of $350 million per fiscal year from its operation and maintenance funds to train and equip foreign militaries for counterterrorism operations. Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) grants the Secretary of Defense with the authority to train and equip foreign military forces for counterterrorism and stability operations – and foreign security forces for counterterrorism operations, notwithstanding the provisions of other U.S. laws.

7.      Peacekeeping Operations (PKO): The United States provides military assistance through its Peacekeeping Operations fund to support multilateral peacekeeping, peace support, and regional stability operations that are not funded through the United Nations.

8.      Peacekeeping Operations – Overseas Contingency Operations (PKO-OCO): PKO-OCO funds are specifically meant to support U.S. counterterrorism efforts overseas – originally specific to Afghanistan and Iraq. While PKO missions are funded from the base budget and are therefore limited by Budget Control Act of 2011 caps, OCO operations are funded by supplemental appropriations and are not, consequently, restricted by any caps.

The president may override CSPA prohibitions if he believes it is in the “national interest,” and issue partial or blanket waivers. Within 45 days of issuing a waiver, the President must then certify to the appropriate congressional committees that the offending government: “is taking reasonable steps to implement effective measures to demobilize child soldiers in its forces or in government-supported paramilitaries and is taking reasonable steps within the context of its national resources to provide demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration assistance to those former child soldiers; and the assistance provided by the United States Government to the government of such country will go to programs that will directly support professionalization of the military.”

The 2014 TIP report, released on June 20, 2014, identified six African governments that were using child soldiers in their own militaries or in government-supported groups. Five of the six countries are slated to receive sanctionable U.S. military assistance in FY 2015 and all have received U.S. military assistance over the past four years since the CSPA came into effect. It should be noted, however, that the United States has not provided military assistance to the Government of Sudan since South Sudan became a sovereign state.

1.      Central African Republic (CAR): The conflict in CAR is ongoing, and the TIP report notes the close relationship between the Seleka government and militant groups that utilize underage combatants. For FY15, the United States has budgeted $100,000 for IMET and $10,000 for PKO.

Fiscal Year

IMET

PKO

FY15 (req)

$100,000

(Student data unavailable)

$10,000

 

2.      Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The DRC’s military forces, the FARDC, recruited and used children for military operations within the last year. For FY15, the United States has budgeted $350,000 for IMET and $11,000,000 for PKO.

Fiscal Year

IMET

PKO

FY15 (req)

$350,000

(Student data unavailable)

$11,000,000

 

3.      Rwanda: The 2014 TIP report noted that the Rwandan government is known to support the M23 rebel group, which forcibly and fraudulently recruits children. For FY15, the United States has budgeted $350,000 for IMET.

Fiscal Year

IMET

FY15 (req)

$350,000

(Student data unavailable)

 

4.      Somalia: Somalia’s armed forces, the SNSF, recruited and used children between April and December 2013. For FY15, the United States has budgeted $200,000 for IMET and $115,000,000 for PKO-OCO.

Fiscal Year

IMET

PKO

FY15 (req)

$200,000

(Student data unavailable)

$115,000,000

 

 

5.      South Sudan: Children remained in South Sudan’s government’s security forces. For FY15, the United States has budgeted $650,000 for IMET and $36,000,000 for PKO.

Fiscal Year

IMET

PKO

FY15 (req)

$650,000

(Student data unavailable)

$36,000,000

 

The data from the initial implementation of the CSPA – dating back to FY 2009 – demonstrates that in nearly all cases, with Yemen being the notable exception, the amount of military assistance provided to governments using child soldiers is rather minimal. Thus, the CSPA is an important tool that can be used to encourage offending governments to improve national institutions and security apparatuses and eliminate child soldiers from their ranks. The waivers can be used to encourage changes in government behavior and to promote democratic norms within the military structure.

The administration could use the U.S.-Africa Summit to focus on the “carrot” element of the law – using U.S. military and security assistance to support other democracy promotion and security sector reform initiatives undertaken to assist emerging democracies and U.S. partner governments. Such an approach would strengthen the U.S. and African commitment to human rights and international security.

 

 

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