Obama exempts African states from child soldier legislation

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The Independent US

In a move criticised by human rights organisations, the Obama administration has decided to exempt Yemen and three other countries that use child soldiers from US penalties under the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act.

In a memorandum to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama said he had determined that "it is in the national interest of the United States" to waive application of the law to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Yemen. He instructed Clinton to submit the decision to the Congress with a written justification for the move.

Mr Obama's memo, released by the White House on Monday, did not include the justification. Administration officials have said, however, that cutting off military aid to those four countries as required by the law would do more harm than good. They said close cooperation with them can be a more effective way of changing their practices. Jo Becker, children's rights director at Human Rights Watch, said Obama had supported the legislation when he was in the Senate.

"This is a groundbreaking law," she said. "This is the first year it has taken effect and he's undercutting it." The law was signed by President George Bush shortly before he left office but did not take effect until this year.

Ms Becker said the US has legitimate national interests in the countries given the waiver, but that the administration could have made use of a provision in the law that permits targeted cuts in military assistance, while continuing aid aimed at professionalising armies. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the countries who received the waiver deserved more time to correct their practices.

"In these countries we are working with the governments to stop the recruitment of child soldiers or demobilise those who may already be in the ranks," Crowley said. "These waivers allow the United States to continue to conduct valuable training programs."

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