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Clinton Hailed for Signing Ban on
Human Rights Watch
July 5, 2000
Human Rights Watch praised
the Clinton administration today for signing an international
protocol that prohibits the use of children in armed conflict. The
U.S. is the eighth country to sign the new agreement, which was
adopted by the United Nations in May and opened for signature and
ratification last month. The President is scheduled to sign the
protocol this afternoon at the United Nations in New York.
"When U.S. soldiers participate in international peacekeeping
operations, they may well find themselves face-to-face with a
14-year old carrying an AK-47," said Jo Becker, Advocacy Director
for the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "U.S.
efforts to stop the use of child soldiers not only helps children
internationally, but ultimately, American forces as well.
An estimated 300,000 children are currently participating in
armed conflicts in more than thirty countries. Human Rights Watch
has documented the use of children as soldiers in Uganda, Liberia,
Angola, Lebanon, Sudan, Colombia, and Sri Lanka. Most recently, the
organization has collected testimony from children recruited into
the civil conflict in Sierra Leone.
Once a child is recruited, their whole future becomes
compromised," said Becker. "They're sucked into a cycle of violence,
often denied an education or opportunity to learn any practical job
skills, and end up maimed, psychologically damaged, or killed. U.S.
support for the new protocol will help ensure these kids are
Human Rights Watch also urged the U.S. Senate to act to ratify
the new protocol as soon as possible. The new protocol establishes
eighteen as the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities,
for compulsory recruitment, and for any recruitment or use in
hostilities by non-governmental armed groups.
However, it allows government forces to accept voluntary recruits
from the age of sixteen, subject to certain safeguards including
parental permission and proof of age.
The United States initially opposed the protocol, arguing that it
needed to be able to deploy its seventeen-year old recruits.
However, less than 3,000 of the US' 1.3 million active duty force
are under the age of eighteen. The U.S. dropped its objections
during the protocol's final round of negotiations in January of this
year, and agreed to "take all feasible measures" to ensure that
under-age troops do not participate in armed conflict. U.S.
recruitment practices will not be affected by the protocol.
Raising the U.S. deployment age was a very reasonable concession
for the Pentagon to make, considering that the numbers involved are
so small," said Becker. "It ensures that American troops have a
greater degree of maturity. And very importantly, it sends a strong
signal to other governments and forces worldwide, that children
shouldn't participate in war.
Human Rights Watch chairs the international Coalition to Stop the
Use of Child Soldiers, which was formed in 1998 to campaign on
behalf of a global ban on the recruitment or use of child soldiers.