Around a dozen U.S. State Department officials have formally accused Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of violating the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, citing his recent decision to exclude Iraq, Afghanistan, and Myanmar from a list of nations currently conscripting child soldiers despite his department's public acknowledgement that children have been used in combat by these nations.
"Secretary of State Tillerson apparently believes the list is subject to backroom political calculations, rather than facts on the ground and U.S. law."
—Jo Becker, Human Rights WatchThe accusations were leveled in a confidential "dissent" memo (pdf) obtained and reported on by Reuters for the first time on Tuesday.
"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," Reuters noted.
Passed in 2008, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act's stated purpose is to bar the U.S. government from arming nations in which anyone under the age of 18 is "recruited, conscripted, or otherwise compelled to serve" as a child soldier.
The Obama administration repeatedly came under fire from human rights groups after it successfully circumvented the federal law by granting "waivers" to Iraq, Myanmar, and several other nations accused of conscripting children, claiming that it was in America's "national interest" to provide these countries with military assistance.
With his June decision to keep Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan off the list of violators entirely, Tillerson further eroded the force of the 2008 law and "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," State Department officials charged in a confidential memo dated July 28.
While the leaked memo is the first piece of evidence that State Department officials are engaged in a "revolt" against Tillerson's moves to undercut the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, human rights groups have long been publicly raising alarm about the Secretary of State's actions.
"Secretary of State Tillerson apparently believes the list is subject to backroom political calculations, rather than facts on the ground and U.S. law," Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a June statement. "Unless Tillerson reverses this action, he will gravely damage U.S. credibility in ending the use of children in warfare."
"The Child Soldiers Prevention Act gives the president some discretion in applying sanctions against countries using child soldiers," Becker concluded, "but it doesn’t give the State Department discretion to take off countries that belong on the list."