Military Recruitment Practices Violate International Standards, Says ACLU

May 13, 2008 12:00 am

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New Report Also Details U.S. Failure To Protect Foreign Child Soldiers

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NEW YORK – The United States has failed to uphold its commitments to safeguard the rights of youth under 18 from military recruitment and to guarantee basic protections to foreign former child soldiers, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report released today. The report, “Soldiers of Misfortune,” charges that U.S. military recruiting practices that target children as young as 11, the lack of protections for alleged foreign child soldiers in U.S. military custody, and the denial of protection to former child soldiers from other countries seeking asylum violate the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict that the U.S. ratified in 2002.

“The United States is failing to protect its own youth from abusive military recruitment, and is simultaneously failing to protect the youth of other countries who have already been forcibly involved in armed conflict,” said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “The United States should take immediate action to bring its policies and practices on military recruitment and treatment of former child soldiers in line with internationally accepted standards.”

The ACLU submitted the report to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, which oversees compliance with the optional protocol. The Protocol mandates countries to protect children under 18 from military recruitment and guarantees basic protections to former child soldiers. The committee will review the ACLU report before questioning a U.S. government delegation on its compliance with Protocol obligations on May 22 in Geneva.

According to the report, the military regularly targets youth under 18 for recruitment and disproportionately targets poor and minority students. The ACLU charges that exaggerated promises of financial rewards and coercion, deception and sexual abuse by recruiters nullify the so-called “voluntariness” of recruitment. A 2007 survey of New York City high school students by the New York Civil Liberties Union and other organizations found that more than one in five students, including students as young as 14, reported the use of class time by military recruiters.

“Military recruitment tools aimed at youth under 18, including Pentagon-produced video games, military training corps, and databases of students’ personal information, have no place in America’s schools,” said Jennifer Turner of the ACLU Human Rights Project. “The United States military’s procedures for recruiting students plainly violate internationally accepted standards and fail to protect youth from abusive and aggressive recruitment tactics.”

The report also criticizes U.S. detention of children at Guantánamo and U.S.-run facilities overseas without recognizing their juvenile status or observing international juvenile justice standards. Highlighted in the report is the case of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen in Department of Defense custody since he was 15, detained at Guantánamo on charges that include alleged crimes committed when he was 10 years old. The ACLU charges that military commission proceedings against Khadr allow the admission of coerced evidence that may have been obtained through torture.

Also included in the report are details of the U.S. denial of asylum status to former child soldiers under immigration provisions intended to bar those who victimized them. Some former child soldiers who were the victims of serious human rights abuses and cannot safely return to their home countries are being denied protection in the U.S.

The report calls on the United States to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights and the most universally accepted and least controversial human rights treaty that has been drafted. Of 195 countries in the world, only the U.S. and Somalia have not ratified or acceded to this treaty.

The ACLU report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child is available online at:

The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict is at:

The report of the NYCLU and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer on military recruitment in New York City public schools is available online at:

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