Monday, 22 July 2013

D.R.-CONGO: Obama's waiver & Child Soldier Ban

Tens of millions of dollars of U.S. military financing will continue to flow to Republic Democratic of Congo and three other countries that recruit and use child soldiers, despite a 2008 U.S. law designed to restrict U.S. taxpayer funding of foreign militaries that enlist children to fight in war.

The White House issued a new memorandum to allow military funding to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Chad, two of the six countries on the State Department's list of foreign governments that recruit and use child soldiers in state-backed armed forces and militias. The presidential waivers, issued for a second year in a row, undermine the intentions of Congress.

The law could be very effective if it was applied the way Congress intended, but instead the administration has chosen to disregard the law and exert poor leadership on this issue. Last year, the administration said they were putting governments on notice and giving them time to address the problem, but this year governments that have shown no progress are still getting assistance no strings attached.

In Republic Democratic of Congo, children who are 15 years old and younger have been recruited to fight in the government's conflict with rebels. Thousands of children serve in the military, as well as the various rebels groups. A the height of the Second Congo War, it has been estimated that more than 30,000 children were fighting with various parties to the conflict.

The White House has argued that cutting aid to Republic Democratic of Congo would hurt U.S. efforts to work with countries like Republic Democratic of Congo, in path of democratization. However Joseph Kabila's regime does not give a toss about democracy. It continues to suppress the freedom of speech, imprisoning opposition figures, human rights abuses ( arbitrary arrests, kidnaping, extra-judicial killing, corruption and so on...)

When the waiver was issued last year, then-White House claimed that spokesman the Obama administration believed that continued engagement with Republic Democratic of Congo and the other countries receiving waivers would allow the U.S. to work with these governments to end their use of child soldiers. Ironically the waivers did exactly the opposite.

Nowadays, the Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the highest rates of child soldiers all over the world. The international court has taken part on the judgment of these practices during the war. Thomas Lubanga, one of the lords of the war in the DRC has been charged with 14 years in prison because of the recruiting of child soldiers between 2002 and 2003. The use of child soldiers is still widely spread in the Congolese army and rebels groups.

The new presidential memorandum cited "national security interests" as the basis for granting the waivers for D.R.-Congo.  "The partial national interest waiver issued for the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Vietor, "fully restricts the provision of Foreign Military Financing to the Government of the DRC, and sends a clear signal to the Government of the DRC that it must do more, while allowing for the provision of certain forms of training and supplies that will serve to further professionalize the DRC's military."

The issuance of blanket waivers has not proven to be effective in addressing the recruitment of child soldiers. The example of Congo, which has used hundreds of child soldiers and resisted efforts to demobilize children from its units while receiving U.S. funding over the past six years.

President Obama voted for the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 while serving in the Senate. The law, which went into effect in June of 2009, prohibits international military education and training, foreign military financing, and the issuances of licenses for sales of military equipment. Funding for peacekeeping and law enforcement is not applicable under the law.

In June 2013 The UN set a goal to have no child soldiers anywhere in the world by 2016. The Republic Democratic of Congo is among eight governments armies listed for the recruitment and use of children.  Obama's memorandum would not help to achieve this goal.

The Obama's administration cannot certify that the government of Republic Democratic of Congo has taken steps toward ending the use of child soldiers. This year Obama's waiver would do more harm and than good. The Presidential waivers are actually helping the devil. The Obama's administration must rethink its approach in relation with child soldier ban with the Republic Democratic of Congo.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP: Congolese government Child soldier-Bruno Molangi