Washington is providing military aid to six of
the countries cited in the US State Department's latest series of human rights
reports for recruiting and using child soldiers. They are Afghanistan, Chad,
the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.
A new study by the Washington-based Center for Defense Information (CDI) charges
that, while child soldiers are often recruited and deployed by rebel groups
over which the government has little control, in other cases the recruitment
is being carried out by directly by governments and government-supported paramilitaries.
For example, the CDI reports that in Chad, government security forces recruited
and retained child soldiers and compelled forced labor by adults and children.
It says that human rights abuses included killings and use of child soldiers,
adding that government and other armed groups continued to use child soldiers.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the CDI reports that government
military units and armed groups continued to recruit and maintain child soldiers
in their ranks. It notes that military authorities took no action against commanders
who employed child soldiers, and says that while the government reached agreements
with militias for the demobilization of child soldiers, the groups did not generally
respect the agreements.
In Sudan, the CDI report says, "There were numerous serious abuses, including
forced military conscription of underage men and recruitment of child soldiers."
Recruitment of child soldiers also remained a serious problem in Sudan's Darfur
region. While much of the recruitment was carried out by a variety of anti-government
rebel groups, the CDI says there are credible reports that government and government-aligned
militias also conscripted children to serve as soldiers.
The State Department and CDI reports come at a time when the George W. Bush
administration is sharply increasing its use of military aid as a reward for
countries that cooperate with its war on terrorism, despite concerns about human
rights and political instability.
The CDI found large increases in government and commercial US arms sales
in recent years to 25 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa that have
become allies against Islamist militancy since the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks.
The nonpartisan think tank said half the countries were identified by the State
Department in 2006 as having serious, grave or significant human rights problems.
The center's analysis of US data showed government-to-government US arms sales
to some 25 countries rocketed to 3.9 billion dollars in 2006 from about 400
million dollars a year earlier. The 2006 figure accounted for about 22 percent
of the total 18 billion dollars in US foreign military sales last year.
"The trend is continuing in a steep upward climb," said Rachel Stohl,
a co-author of the CDI study.
The center also criticized the Bush administration for its increasing use of
new military assistance accounts, which it said allow the Pentagon to bypass
legal restrictions on training or arming human rights abusers.
"The United States is sending unprecedented levels of military assistance
to countries that it simultaneously criticizes for lack of respect for human
rights and, in some cases, for questionable democratic processes," the
"While these countries are currently considered important to US efforts
in the 'war on terror' now, political and military instability makes their continued
allegiance to the United States questionable."
Military aid increases were due in part to the lifting of sanctions and restrictions
against certain countries immediately after Sep. 11, 2001, according to the
center. Direct commercial sales, in which US weapons manufacturers strike deals
overseen by the State Department, stood at over 3.0 billion dollars for the
same countries during the period from 2002 through 2006. That was up from 72
million dollars for the five years preceding the Sep. 11 attacks.
At the same time, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity (CPI)
charges that foreign lobbyists are exploiting the country's post-9/11 fear to
obtain billions of dollars in US military aid – and a substantial part of it
is being sent to countries that routinely violate human rights, participate
in "extraordinary renditions," and recruit and deploy child soldiers.
These are among the conclusions of a yearlong study by a CPI team of seasoned
reporters – known as the Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The ICIJ report, released last year and titled "Collateral Damage,"
concludes that "the influence of foreign lobbying on the US government,
as well as a shortsighted emphasis on counterterrorism objectives over broader
human rights concerns, have generated staggering costs to the US and its allies
in money spent and political capital burned."
"Deals to provide military aid to what are perceived as often corrupt
and brutal governments have set back efforts to advance human rights and the
rule of law," the ICIJ report says.
Since 1950, the US government has provided over 91 billion dollars to militaries
around the world from a single fund. There are a number of additional funds,
so the total is substantially higher. Most of the money comes from the Defense
and State Departments.
Joanne Mariner, director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program for
Human Rights Watch, told IPS, "We're concerned that US military aid is,
in some cases, showered on repressive governments. In our view aid should be
more carefully conditioned to ensure that abuses are not carried out with American
In their investigation, 10 ICIJ reporters on four continents explored US
counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks. They found that post-9/11 US
political pressure, Washington lobbying and aid dollars have reshaped policies
towards countries ranging from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, to Pakistan and
Thailand in Asia, Poland and Romania in Europe, to Colombia in South America.
The ICIJ report notes that many of the recipients of this aid are countries
believed to be guilty of human rights abuses. For example, it charges that countries
receiving military aid from the US have participated in "extraordinary
renditions" – kidnapping suspected terrorists or transferring prisoners
to countries known to practice torture and other inhuman and degrading practices.
Reliable data shows that airplanes chartered by the US Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) made at least 76 stopovers in Azerbaijan, 72 in Jordan, 61 in Egypt,
52 in Turkmenistan, 46 in Uzbekistan, 40 in Iraq, 40 in Morocco, 38 in Afghanistan,
and 14 in Libya. Most of these countries are recipients of US military assistance.
For example, in Uzbekistan, "Torture and ill-treatment" remain "widespread"
and continue to occur with "impunity," according to a highly critical
assessment by the United Nations Committee Against Torture. Uzbekistan currently
receives well over 100 million dollars in US military aid.
Since the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan has become one of the largest recipients of
US military aid – reportedly more than 10 billion dollars.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) contends that torture is used
extensively by both police and prison officials. It notes that no officials
have been punished for engaging in such excesses. HRCP further alleges that
instances of illegal detention occur on a relatively regular basis and that
most of them go unreported.
The ICIJ report also says that Indonesia used the charitable foundation of
a former Indonesian president to hire lobbyists to pressure Congress to keep
US funds flowing. Its report says the Indonesian government ran a concerted
lobbying effort of Congress after the 9/11 attacks using "high-powered
influence peddlers", including former Republican Senator and 1996 presidential
candidate Bob Dole.
(Inter Press Service)