Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ignored U.S. law and his own department’s recommendation to give aid to countries that force children to fight in wars.
Donald Trump has repeatedly been accused of hollowing out and contravening his State Department.
But the problem is not just Trump. Tillerson himself is doing his utmost to dismantle State Department norms, to the point that his own officials are now protesting.
According to a new report from Reuters, Tillerson overruled his own overseas bureau chiefs to delist three countries from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, and several State Department officials are furious, accusing Tillerson of "violating a federal law designed to stop foreign militaries from enlisting child soldiers."
A confidential State Department “dissent” memo not previously reported said Tillerson breached the Child Soldiers Prevention Act when he decided in June to exclude Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of offenders in the use of child soldiers. This was despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were being conscripted in those countries. [...]
Documents reviewed by Reuters also show Tillerson’s decision was at odds with a unanimous recommendation by the heads of the State Department’s regional bureaus overseeing embassies in the Middle East and Asia, the U.S. envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the department’s human rights office and its own in-house lawyers.
The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 requires the U.S. government to certify that no people under the age of 18 “are recruited, conscripted or otherwise compelled to serve as child soldiers,” a grave human rights violation. Tillerson evidently bypassed this requirement to remove these countries from the list, to make it easier to issue foreign aid to their governments.
Tillerson spent a large part of his private sector career cutting illegal deals with authoritarian regimes, so this decision is par for the course for him — but not for the State Department. As Tillerson mismanages our foreign relations, career State Department officials can see that our standards in diplomatic conduct are falling by the day.
Our leaders must make a stand to reaffirm our nation’s commitment to human rights, or they cannot claim the mantle of leadership at all.