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On FSA Child Soldiers, Amos Says Use Leverage, US Left UNanswered, Until Now

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 13, updated Feb 14 below -- Amid reports that the US already provides or is ready to provide aid to armed groups in Syria like the Free Syrian Army (FSA), on January 29 Inner City Press first highlighted and then on January 30 first asked the US Mission to the UN about a finding in the UN's then-unpublished report on Children and Armed Conflict in Syria:

"Throughout the reporting period, the United Nations received consistent reports of recruitment and use of children by FSA-affiliated groups." (Now final, here, Para 12).

  The US has cited the recruitment and use of child soldiers to suspend US aid to armies of governments which had previously been receiving it.  Inner City Press asked, and continues to ask,  how could the US provide aid to a non-state group which even the UN has found using child soldiers?

  On February 13, Inner City Press was able to put this question to the UN's humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, but not to US Ambassador Samantha Power who spoke just after Amos.

   Amos said "in terms of recruiting children into armed groups, we see culpability on all the sides to the conflict, and therefore anyone who has any kind of influence with those groups needs to be making it clear that this is not acceptable." Video here, from Minute 10:11.

   Given US statements about the Free Syrian Army, clearly the US has influence and leverage. So will the US use the leverage? Can it legally not?

  At the Security Council stakeout after Amos took five questions, including Inner City Press' question on FSA child soldiers, Ambassador Power took three: Al Arabiya, Associated Press and the New York Times. Inner City Press said, "Question on child soldiers?" and there was some reaction which we won't try to interpret. (The video is now online here, at end, also from Minute 10:11). But the question had still not been answered, as specifically regards the FSA child soldiers and the US 2008 Child Soldiers Protection Act.

Update: on February 14, the following was received from US Mission deputy spokesperson Tony Deaton:

"We are deeply disturbed by the contents of this report and strongly condemn the mistreatment and torture of children in any conflict. We equally condemn the use of child soldiers in Syria and around the world. The use of children in armed conflict is morally reprehensible, and the United States in no way supports or condones this activity. We vet recipients of our assistance to the moderate opposition and work diligently to prevent assistance from falling into the hands of groups that recruit or use children in combat or employ terror tactics."

While we will continue to pursue how the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act applies after the FSA finding in the UN report, we appreciate the US response and publish it in full.

  Back on February 4, the UK Mission to the UN provided this response to Inner City Press:

"The UK absolutely condemns the use of child soldiers in all cases, and strongly supports international efforts to stop the use of child soldiers. We urge all parties in the Syrian conflict to release any children held in detention.

"Armed conflict affects millions of lives around the world, and children are among those most vulnerable to the effects of conflict. The only way to secure the long-term future of Syria’s children is to find a political solution to the crisis.

"We have made clear our absolute condemnation of the use of child soldiers. As noted in this report, the use of child soldiers by the opposition is not systematic and is limited to certain elements. We have provided training to the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian opposition on the law of armed conflict, and will continue to work with them to help ensure that they meet their obligations under international law."

    As Inner City Press noted, that might be OK for the United Kingdom -- but what about the US, including in light of the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which provides for example:

It is the sense of Congress that—

 (1) the United States Government should condemn the conscription, forced recruitment, or use of children by governments, paramilitaries, or other organizations;

 (2) the United States Government should support and, to the extent practicable, lead efforts to establish and uphold international standards designed to end the abuse of human rights described in paragraph (1);

  There are prohibitions on funding which can only be overridden for formal, public findings in a waiver by the President. Given all this, Inner City Press on February 4 again asked two spokespeople for the US Mission to the UN its January 30 question: "could the US provide aid to a non-state group, the FSA and its affiliates, which the UN has found using child soldiers?"

  Now we add: (in) consistent with the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008.

 The report, now issued as a document of the UN Security Council under the symbol S/2014/31, goes on to recount:

"Boys aged 12 to 17 were trained, armed, and used as combatants or to man checkpoints. For instance, a 15 year-old boy reported being recruited in April 2012 by the FSA in Tall Kalakh (Tartus governate), and participation in military operations.... Also indicative was the case of a 16 year-old boy from Homs who reportedly joined the FSA as a combatant. In March 2013, his family reported to the United Nations that he was still fighting with the group."

  And is this boy still fighting with the FSA? There is more to be said about this UN report, but as to the US and the recent report it is or is moving toward aiding the armed FSA, what steps will be taken on this UN report? Specifically, by the US, including in light of what Valerie Amos said on February 13 about using leverage? Watch this site.


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