Rebel forces in South Sudan used child soldiers and the U.S. State Department under Hillary Clinton sent arms there despite passing a law that banned providing military assistance to nations that used child soldiers, The Intercept reported Friday.
Waivers were issued by the White House that kept aid flowing there and U.S. President Barack Obama said in 2012 the waivers were in “the national interest of the United States.”
The move was criticized by human rights activists and others, including the author of the 2008 law, which was called the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA), Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.
The Republican from Nebraska said the use of child soldiers was an “unthinkable practice.”
“The U.S. must not be complicit in this practice,” he said, as published in The Intercept. “The intent of the law is clear — the waiver authority should be used as a mechanism for reform, not as a way of continuing the status quo.”
U.S. presidential candidate Clinton, then Secretary of State when the waivers were passed, appears she has played a large role in in giving military support to South Sudan despite concerns about their use of child soldiers as combatants.
Daniel Mahanty, who served in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor under Clinton, said decisions about waivers do get approval from the Secretary of State.
“We will have already drafted the letter from the president to Congress that says what waivers he’s going to invoke,” Mahanty told The Intercept. “So it goes up to the secretary [of state], then over to the White House, and from the White House out to the public.”
Jo Becker, the advocacy director of the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, also believes Clinton’s State Department played a central role in this issue. “It’s the State Department that gives the recommendations to Obama on who he should waive,” she said to The Intercept.
The State Department, however, refused to comment.
According to The Intercept, the Obama administration believed it needed to issue these waivers in order to allow South Sudan to get on its feet before making any demands of its military.
For more than two decades, a bipartisan coalition in the United States had supported rebels in the south of Sudan and as South Sudan formed, the U.S. poured billions of dollars in military and security assistance.
It also supported on South Sudan’s security forces, especially the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), whose members were implicated in a number of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and torture.
“The U.S. seems to make the same kind of mistake again and again,” said Nate Haken of the Fund for Peace. “We catalyze major change without understanding, or at least grappling with, the long-term implications — whether it’s Iraq or Libya or whether it’s South Sudan. We definitely need to do better.”