07 October, 2008

The DRC & Uganda

Two of the countries that hold my heart are in the news again - this time in an indirect way...

Congress passed (and Bush signed) a law that allows "leaders of military forces and armed groups who have recruited child soldiers [to] be arrested and prosecuted in the United States," Human Rights Watch reported.

I have to ask - what good did this bill do?
The Child Soldiers Accountability Act makes it a federal crime to recruit knowingly or to use soldiers under the age of 15 and permits the United States to prosecute any individual on US soil for the offense, even if the children were recruited or served as soldiers outside the United States. The law imposes penalties of up to 20 years, or up to life in prison if their action resulted in the child’s death. It also allows the United States to deport or deny entry to individuals who have knowingly recruited children as soldiers.

Call me cynical but when is the last time you saw Joseph Kony walking around Manhattan? I don't think the US is the top retirement/clemency choice for those using child soldiers. Also, is it 20 years for the entire act of recruiting children or for each child? And, um, shouldn't the US already be denying entry and deporting those who "have knowingly recruited children as soldiers" ? I'm sorry, is there a big population of former (or current) child soldiers recruiters in the US I don't know about?

Senator Durbin - who proposed the bill, said, “The United States must not be a safe haven for those who exploit children as soldiers. Period. The use of children as combatants is one of the most despicable human rights violations in the world today and affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of boys and girls who are used as combatants, porters, human mine detectors and sex slaves. The power to prosecute and punish those who violate the law will send a clear signal that the U.S. will in no way tolerate this abhorrent practice.”

So then why not create a law that actually sends a clear signal? Again, our Congress has managed to pass a bill full of big words and not bite. But instead of being annoyed, some are praising the bill...

Jo Becker at HRW adds, “This new law is a breakthrough because it no longer leaves the prosecution of child recruiters to international tribunals and the national courts of conflict-affected countries... The United States is stepping up to hold these war criminals accountable in its own courts.”

Again - when is the last time someone responsible for the recruitment of child soldiers was in the US? Okay, maybe they're really sneaky about it and no one knows about their home in Iowa - but I can't imagine this happens too frequently, and now with this law - why would they come to the US, unless they are that stupid... And isn't that why the Hague and other tribunals exist? Shouldn't the US be supporting these institutions instead of undermining them?

So, no mention of sanctions for countries whose governments don't stop the inscription of child soldiers, no mention of assisting the UN or NATO or the AU in helping to end this practice, no money earmarked for services overseas to help these kids readjust after the fact, no money for NGOs already doing something... Again, (call me cynical) I ask - what did this bill actually do?

Read more about it here, here, and go here for more info on child soldiers.

Just for reference, here is a list (from HRW) of the, "countries and territories in which children are known to have been used in hostilities between 2004 and 2007 include: Afghanistan, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Nepal, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand and Uganda."

Onto other news pertaining to Africa:

Salma Hayek speaks out to end tetanus.

King Leopold's Ghost made into a film - which, if it is like the book, has the chance to impact many and start pertinent discussions, unfortunately, the movie has yet to be shown in the DRC, something this author believes could be a cop out.

Liberia 'fastest-improving African nation' - but they still have a long way to go...

And finally, Neil Peirce in the Seattle Times writes why family planning is a good idea. The UN blog highlights some of the key benefits (emphasis added):

* By moderating population growth, there'd be some lessening of catastrophic food and water shortages afflicting less-developed nations.

*The rights and life prospects of millions of women around the globe might be enhanced.

* Significant worldwide totals of abortions and infant deaths could be avoided.

* Democracy and stability would be promoted around the world as fewer nations faced the turmoil easily triggered by high birth rates creating population "bumps" of poor and resentful youth.

* With a clear, unequivocal U.S. lead, other countries and the United Nations might expand their international family-planning assistance.

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© Amanda Lunday