Rex Tillerson has been accused of violating a federal law involving child soldiers

Roughly a dozen State Department officials have accused Tillerson of violating the Child Soldiers Prevention Act

By Matthew Rozsa
Published November 21, 2017 8:34PM (UTC)
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is being accused of violating a federal law meant to curtail the foreign use of child soldiers.

Roughly a dozen State Department officials wrote a confidential "dissent" memo in July that called out Tillerson for allegedly breaching the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, according to Reuters. They cited Tillerson's decision in June to not include Afghanistan, Iraq and Myanmar in the list of countries that use child soldiers — a decision that made it easier to provide those countries with American military support, even though the State Department publicly acknowledged children were being conscripted in those three nations.

While Tillerson's decision could be supported for geopolitical reasons — Afghanistan and Iraq are American allies against conservative Islamist regimes, while Myanmar is perceived as a strategic counterweight to China — the "dissent" memo argued that this was still the wrong thing to do because of those countries' use of child soldiers. Tillerson's policy flouted the unanimous recommendation of a number of relevant State Department agencies.

"Beyond contravening U.S. law, this decision risks marring the credibility of a broad range of State Department reports and analyses and has weakened one of the U.S. government's primary diplomatic tools to deter governmental armed forces and government-supported armed groups from recruiting and using children in combat and support roles around the world," the memo argued.

Tillerson has made it clear in the past that he will not prioritize human rights issues. In July, he informed employees at the State Department's Office of Global Criminal Justice that they were going to be reassigned, even though that office conducted important work on apprehending war criminals.

"It’s taking an issue that’s preeminent and putting it inside a backwater within the State Department. Position to power matters both within the U.S. government and within the international community," Robert Knake, a senior fellow for cybersecurity at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, told Bloomberg.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Afghanistan Iraq Myanmar Rex Tillerson