RANGOON — New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that a decision by the United States to give military assistance to countries that recruit and use child soldiers, including Burma, fails child soldiers but is not unexpected.
US President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that he will waive the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 and allow some governments accused of using child soldiers to receive US military assistance.
There will be no restrictions at all on military aid to three countries—Burma, Iraq, and Nigeria.
The move came after Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi visited the United States earlier this month and may have asked the US to remove sanctions inhibiting economic growth in Burma.
However, sources close to US diplomats said that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not want Burma to be judged by a lower standard than other countries or be let off the hook for bad behavior, for example waiving the Child Solider Act restrictions on Burma.
Critics of President Obama’s move pointed out that his actions will remove a vital barrier to military assistance for the Burma Army that still uses underage soldiers as fighters.
Jo Becker, HRW’s advocacy director of the children’s rights division, said the decision wasn’t unexpected. “It’s what [President Obama] has done during his entire two terms in office,” wrote Jo Becker.
The Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits certain forms of US military aid for governments implicated in child soldier use and it took effect soon after Obama became president in 2009.
Under his presidential authority, Obama can forgo the sanctions every year on most of the affected countries under the law’s “national interest” waiver provision.
This year, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are the only countries that were completely restricted. Military training and peacekeeping support, but not financing and sales, are allowed for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Rwanda.
“The US has not given military aid to Burma for years, but is now saying that the use of child soldiers by Burma Army won’t be an impediment to possible future aid,” wrote Jo Becker.