Monday, November 01, 2010

The Obama administration ignoring human rights abuses of children

Even though the Congress has passed a law two years ago to institute penalties on regimes that employ child soldiers, the Obama administration has decided not to do so. Rather, they prefer to give them a pass for this year and hope that countries such as Sudan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Yemen will change their ways. The Cable at Foreign Policy has the report from a conference call in which Samantha Power, the director of human rights on the National Security Council tried to convince upset congressional staffers and human rights activists that this is an optimal policy.
Power defended the president's decision to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was set to go into effect this month, for Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and Yemen. She argued that identifying these countries as violators while giving them one more year to stop recruiting underage troops would help make progress.

"Our judgment was brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work," said Power, adding that this was the first year the Obama administration had to make a decision on this issue, so they want to give the violator countries one more year to show progress.

"In year one to just say we're out of here, best of luck, we wish you well... Our judgment is we'll work from inside the tent."

But Hill staffers and advocacy leaders on the call weren't buying what Power was selling. They were upset that they learned about the decision via The Cable, and challenged Power on each point that she made.

For example, Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch, pointed out that the law was passed two years ago.

"The law was enacted in 2008, so countries have had two years to know that this was coming down the pike," she said. "So the consequences of the law really shouldn't be taking anyone by surprise, so to say countries need a year to get their act together is really problematic."

She also disputed Power's contention on the call that "there's evidence that our diplomatic engagement and this military assistance has resulted in some changes."

"The U.S. has been providing training for years already with no real change on the ground," said Becker. "We haven't seen significant changes in practice so far from the engagement approach, so that seems to indicate to me we need to change the approach, maybe withholding programs until we see changes on the ground."
But perhaps it should be enough that Barack Obama is president. Weren't we told that his mere presence would change the behavior of rogue nations?