Last week, the White House issued a presidential determination waiving restrictions on FY2014 military assistance to Chad, South Sudan and Yemen despite their recruitment and use of child soldiers as outlined by section 404(a) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA). However, the Obama administration has decided to withhold military assistance from another four countries – the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Rwanda – under this act, signifying progress in the law’s implementation.
The Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA)
The CSPA was passed into law in 2008 to prevent U.S. military assistance to countries determined by the U.S. State Department to be the worst abusers of child soldiers in their militaries. Specifically, section 404(a) of the bill prohibits the U.S. from providing assistance to, or licensing the direct commercial sale of military equipment to “governmental armed forces or government-supported armed groups, including paramilitaries, militias, or civil defense forces, that recruit and use child soldiers.”
However, a national security waiver was built into the law reserving discretionary authority to the President of the United States to override – or “waive” – implementation of the law to certain recipients when the President determines such funding to be “in the national interest of the United States.” Military aid subject to withholding under the law, moreover, is only State Department funding. Department of Defense military assistance is not subject to sanctions under the law.
Implementation under President Obama
For the past three years, the Obama administration has routinely waived sanctions on countries subject to withholdings – including in 2010, the first year they were to go into effect. At that time, the White House failed to inform Congress or the NGO community of its decision in advance, setting off a fierce backlash that has continued since. In February 2013, a United Nations committee further urged the U.S. president to take a tougher stance.
The State Department issued its fourth annual report listing governments subject to sanctions under CSPA in June 2013. The ten countries listed included: Burma (Myanmar), the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Of those, seven are due to receive military aid from the United States in FY2014. The report moreover finds “an alarming trend emerg[ing] during the year of numerous non-state armed groups abducting, recruiting, and exploiting children as combatants, porters, spies, and for sex in conflicts that erupted in Africa and in the Middle East.”
The FY2014 determination gives blanket – or complete – waivers to three of the ten countries: Yemen, Chad, and South Sudan. This will essentially enable these nations to receive as much military assistance as planned for FY2014, or more should additional requests be made down the line, from the U.S. despite documentation of their recruitment or use of child soldiers.
Partial waivers were granted to Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When implemented, this means governments will continue to be awarded lethal aid in support of peacekeeping missions currently underway in both countries under the Peacekeeping Operations authority “for logistical support and troop stipends.” Funds withheld may include the following, though it is not yet clear to what extent:
- Somalia: $200,000 in IMET
- DRC: $320,000 in IMET
As Scott Edwards of Amnesty International explained to ThinkProgress, partial waivers can sometimes be favored within the humanitarian community over complete waivers because they “allow the president the ability to use aid as leverage to compel governments to take certain steps to combat use of child soldiers.“
Aid will be withheld to Rwanda and the Central African Republic (CAR). Rwanda was placed on the State Department’s CSPA list for the first time this year due to its ongoing support of the Mouvement du 23-mars (M23), an armed group that has forcibly recruited children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. CAR has been on the list. Funding withheld under sanction could include:
- Rwanda: $410,000 in IMET, and $200,000 in FMF
- Central African Republic: $120,000 in IMET
Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch stated “this a welcome use of the US’ leverage under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act. In previous years, we have seen waivers for most countries, and last year, a partial waiver for only one country — the DRC.”