Moral Low Ground


Despite Promise, Obama Waives Penalties on Countries Using Child Soldiers for 2nd Straight Year

The Child Soldiers Prevention Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, which prohibits the United States from giving military aid to countries that employ soldiers under the age of 15, has once again been shredded by President Barack Obama.

Foreign Policy reports that for the second straight year, the Obama administration is granting waivers to four countries that are notorious for their use of children in their armed forces. This means that those nations– Yemen, South Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo– will all continue to receive U.S. military aid, paid for with your tax dollars, even though they continue to use children to fight their wars.

In deciding to waive the legally mandated penalties for these four countries, Obama is not only eviscerating a law designed to protect children from the horrors of war, he is also breaking a promise he delivered to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) last year, namely that last year’s waivers were a one-off and that enforcement of the law would begin this year.

It most certainly has not.

Last year, Obama did not even bother to inform Congress or NGOs that he was granting waivers to the four countries. The Obama administration argued that the offending nations needed more time to comply with the law and National Security Council Director Samantha Power promised that the waivers would only be for one year and that enforcement would begin in 2011.

“Our judgment was to brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work,” she told a private conference call with NGOs that Foreign Policy eavesdropped on.

But despite making little or no progress, the four nations will once again be granted exemptions.

The State Department is arguing that as a new nation, South Sudan– which has used child soldiers for decades as it fought (successfully) for independence from Khartoum– is not subject to the law. That country will receive $100 million in U.S. military aid this year.

In Yemen, Obama argues that counterterrorism cooperation trumps the use of child soldiers. Despite the shocking fact that State Department officials readily admit they don’t even know who’s really in charge of Yemen’s military (the country has been torn by an anti-government uprising, part of the ‘Arab Spring’, for most of this year), $35 million in U.S. military aid will be given.

The Obama administration is granting a partial waiver to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), despite that country’s abysmal human rights record. Some money will be withheld, but the U.S. will continue to train the DRC armed forces.

Chad is being granted a waiver because it signed a U.N. action plan on eliminating child soldiers. Still, activists are skeptical the country has made real progress.

“The White House said last year that they were putting these countries on notice but now it’s a year later and the U.S. is still handing over taxpayer money to countries that use child soldiers with no strings attached,” Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch told Foreign Policy.

Rep. Jeff Fontenberry (R-NE), vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, told Foreign Policy that “President Obama’s decision today to provide taxpayer funded military assistance to countries that use children as soldiers  is an assault on human dignity. Good citizens of this country who do not want to be complicit in this grave human rights abuse must challenge this administration. Our law states that America does not fund the use of child soldiers. Any exceptions must be temporary and intended to help stop this pernicious practice.”

Click here to read the Obama administration’s memo justifying this unconscionable disregard for human rights.

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