U.N. Committee Decries Military Treatment Of Youth At Home And Abroad

June 6, 2008 12:00 am

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GENEVA – A United Nations committee of human rights experts today issued a strongly worded critique of the United States’ record on the detention and treatment of youth in U.S. military custody abroad. The committee also urged the U.S. to make sweeping policy changes regarding domestic military recruitment practices that target juveniles. The committee reviewed reports and testimony from the U.S. government as well as “shadow reports” by the American Civil Liberties Union and other non-governmental organizations before issuing the report.

“The Committee on the Rights of the Child has created a blueprint for changing the U.S.’s practices on detention of suspected child soldiers abroad and military recruitment of children here at home,” said Jennifer Turner of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “The committee’s strong critique of U.S. policies — especially those that depart from accepted international practice and standards — are deeply troubling, and the world will be watching whether the U.S. government swiftly implements the U.N.’s recommendations.”

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child oversees compliance with the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which the U.S. ratified in 2002. The protocol mandates countries to protect children under 18 from unlawful military recruitment tactics and guarantees basic protections to former child soldiers.

The committee called on the U.S. to institute much-needed policies for dealing with juveniles in U.S. military custody, including nearly 2,500 juveniles under the age of 18 that have been held in Guantánamo Bay and other U.S.-run facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan to date.

The committee also called on the U.S. to end domestic military recruitment practices that target juveniles under 17 and to protect youth under 18 from recruitment practices such as false promises and coercion by military recruiters. According to an ACLU report submitted to the CRC in May, the U.S. military regularly targets children under 17 for recruitment through a heavy presence on high school campuses, military training corps, military aptitude tests, and a database that includes information on 16-year-olds for recruitment purposes. The committee also condemned the U.S. military’s practice of targeting students of color and low-income youth for military recruitment.

Finally, the committee criticized the U.S. practice of denying asylum or refugee status to foreign 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 return to their home countries are being denied protection in the U.S. because they are deemed “persecutors of others,” even though they may have been forced to fight in a government army or militia.

“The message from the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child leaves no doubt that U.S. policies and practices violate universal and treaty obligations aimed at protecting children from abusive recruitment tactics and alleged foreign child soldiers from mistreatment and unlawful incarceration,” said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “To claim the high moral ground and assert leadership on the issue of human rights, the U.S. must take vigorous action to bring its current conduct in line with the committee’s recommendations.”

The ACLU calls on the government to adopt the CRC recommendations, including:

  • Ensure that captured children are only detained as a measure of last resort and that detained children enjoy adequate conditions in accordance with their age and vulnerability.
  • Reduce the number of children detained at U.S.-run facilities abroad. Prevent the detention of suspected child soldiers at Guantánamo.
  • Avoid criminal prosecutions of suspected child soldiers before military commissions and promptly and impartially investigate accusations against detained children, in accordance with minimum fair trial standards.
  • Guarantee captured children a periodic and impartial review of their detention and impartially investigate reports of torture and abuse against child prisoners, and bring to justice those responsible.
  • Closely monitor domestic military recruiters and investigate and punish reported misconduct by recruiters. Ensure that military recruitment does not target racial and ethnic minorities and children of low income families.
  • Amend the No Child Left Behind Act provision granting military recruiters access to schools and students’ personal information, to cease using the law for recruitment that violates students’ privacy rights and the rights of parents and legal guardians. Ensure that all parents are adequately informed about their right to withhold their child’s information from recruiters.
  • Raise the minimum age for recruitment to 18 and adequately inform under-18 recruits of their right to withdraw from enlistment through the Delayed Entry Program (DEP).
  • Provide asylum and refugee protection to children who have been recruited or used as child soldiers abroad.
  • Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child to improve protection for children’s rights.

The full report of the U.N. CRC is available online at: www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/co/CRC.C.OPAC.USA.CO.1.pdf

The ACLU report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child is at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen/35245pub20080513.html

The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict is at: www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc-conflict.htm

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