Human Rights Watch: Obama Directive “Essentially Nullifies” Child Soldiers Law

Foreign Policy’s intrepid reporter Josh Rogin first posted last night on a White House memo in which President Obama exempted four governments from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, a 2008 bill that bars US military cooperation with countries that recruit child soldiers.   The short presidential directive reads:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, pursuant to section 404(c) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA), title IV of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Public Law 110 457), I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA.

I just spoke with Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch who told me this “essentially nullifies the law.”  The Child Soldiers Prevention Acts, says Becker, mandates that the State Department list governments that recruit child soldiers. In June 2010, six countries were listed: Chad, DRC, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Burma.  By issuing such a sweeping waiver, Becker says the administration has effectively undermined the law.  “It gives us no leverage to deal with the recruitment of child soldiers in these countries,” she says.

Josh Rogin quotes two administration officials who argue that these waivers make it easier for the United States to support genuine efforts to demobilize child soldiers. “These countries have put the right policies in place, but are struggling to effectively implement them,” a state department spokesperson tells Josh Rogin.  “These waivers allow the United States to continue to conduct valuable training programs and by working with these militaries help them meet international norms.”

The bill took effect on October 1, which helps explain the timing of the waiver.  Still, it seems hard to square these two opposing views.   Anyone care to weigh in?