The U.S. is providing military aid to six of the countries cited in the U.S. State Department’s latest series of human rights report for recruiting and using child soldiers.
They are Afghanistan, Chad, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.
And a second report -- by the 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 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 U.S. arms sales in recent years to 25 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa that have become allies against Islamist militancy since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The nonpartisan Washington-based 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 U.S. data showed government-to-government U.S. arms sales to some 25 countries rocketed to $3.9 billion in 2006 from about $400 million a year earlier. The 2006 figure accounted for about 22 percent of the total $18 billion in U.S. 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 center said.
"While these countries are currently considered important to U.S. 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 Sept. 11, 2001, according to the center. Direct commercial sales, in which U.S. weapons manufacturers strike deals overseen by the State Department, stood at over $3 billion for the same countries during the period from 2002 through 2006. That was up from $72 million for the five years preceding the Sept. 11 attacks.
At the same time, the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Public Integrity (CPI) charges that foreign lobbyists are exploiting America’s post-9/11 fear to obtain billions of dollars in U.S. 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.