Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Ambassador Michael Kozak
.9:00 A.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: I formally welcome you to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we’re very pleased to have with us Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Ambassador Michael Kozak. He’s here to discuss the Child Soldier Prevention Act. On June 20th the Secretary of State released the list of governments in accordance with the act. Deputy Assistant Secretary Kozak will provide an overview of the determination process and field questions on the effects and the outcomes of these recommendations.
We’re going to have a Q&A after the opening remarks of about 30 minutes, and we’ll just start with the opening statement, and I’ll turn the floor – or the table to you.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Thank you. Well, again, good morning. I thought maybe I could run through quickly the countries that were designated under the act earlier this year, as was mentioned, and then the recent issuance by the President of waivers with respect to some of those countries and go into the rationale behind them and the effect of those waivers, and then we’ll go to the questions.
The countries that got designated this year by the Secretary were Burma, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. So that’s the universe. Those were the countries that through our annual reporting process were determined to – what – that the governments were either themselves recruiting into the armed forces child soldiers, or were supporting militias or other paramilitary groups or something that contained in their – that recruited child soldiers. One notable omission from that this year is Chad, which had been on the list in past years but made significant efforts and managed to stop the recruitment of child soldiers. So they left the list and that’s a good news story from our standpoint.
So that determination was made earlier in the year that those were the countries – and it’s based on facts. As our embassies are reporting, are there child soldiers being recruited or not? The more recent determination process, which was – the results of which were rolled out a couple days ago was done by the President – and that is under the act, he has authority to waive the application of the sanctions for national interest reasons. And that was done in some cases and not others. In the case of Sudan, Burma, and Syria, no waiver was issued or determined to be warranted.
In three countries, the President waived the application of law in toto – waived the sanctions in toto, but that doesn’t mean – I want to emphasize that that means an unlimited flow of security assistance to those countries. The way that the act works, it puts sanctions on your use of certain authorities under the Foreign Assistance Act, so like International Military Education and Training, that is one of the authorities there. That – when you put – when you designate a country, it gets cut off from any kind of IMET. So if you want to do some kind of IMET, you have to do a waiver, and then you can – either through policy or other declared measures you can expand or limit that as you – as is warranted.
So the three that got so-called full waivers are Rwanda, Somalia, and Yemen, and then Central African Republic, DRC, and South Sudan got partial waivers. So let me explain a little bit the nature of the partial waivers and then the full waivers, what was going on in those countries, so that you get some sense of why we did what we did. And then we’ll open it up for questions.
For the partial waiver countries, the – one of which was Central African Republic – and as you may know, what’s been going on there is that they’re trying to stand up a new professional military force. It’s a place where the military forces had completely disintegrated. And so as they try to do that, we waived it for the purpose – assuming the transitional government – or the government there is able to put together the beginnings of a force and start to create a professional force, we want to be in a position to support that. So we said, if that comes to pass and if they are carrying out the UN Security Council mandate for MINUSCA, the mission there, which includes a provision on elimination of child soldiers, then we will – we waive to the extent necessary to support that effort. So it’s a limited waiver, and it’s contingent, in effect, on those developments coming to pass. But those are developments that we and the international community generally desire to see in the Central African Republic.
Democratic Republic of Congo has taken quite a few steps to reduce the recruitment of child soldiers. They – in late – in October of 2012, they signed a UN action plan, they appointed a special advisor in July of this year to the president on recruitment of child soldiers, and they’ve worked with child protection actors to separate children from armed groups. So there’s quite a bit of activity going on there – issued some directives, and it – the overall result has been diminishment in the recruitment of child soldiers. So the thinking was that that warranted a partial waiver to allow us to – to basically support the professionalization efforts within the military, of which the eliminating recruitment of child soldiers is one, and also we have interests there in maintaining their capacity in counter-piracy, counter-drug-trafficking, and illegal fishing, and their effort against the Lord’s Resistance Army. So those are – again, the waiver is tailored to allow us to support those objectives without just being an open-ended provision of assistance to that country.
And then finally, the Republic of South Sudan – again, a partial waiver. South Sudan continues to have terrible problems on child soldiers, so what we did here was to say we are giving a limited waiver for the purpose, one, of supporting the monitoring and verification mission under the ceasefire agreement that’s been reached. We tried to figure out a way to do this without a waiver, but there wasn’t. In order to be able to provide – the South Sudanese military provides transport and other logistics to support the monitoring and verification mission, and in order to – for us to be able to give them the wherewithal to do that, we had to waive, but we waived for that very narrow purpose, and also for the purpose of – there’s basing of some of the regional forces that are fighting against the LRA are based out of – stage out of South Sudan. And again, we support that. So we made a waiver that’s – allows us to do those two specific things, but nothing more than that.
So those are the partial waiver countries. The full waiver country, Rwanda – Rwanda was on the list because of its support for M23. It wasn’t that the Rwandan forces themselves were recruiting child soldiers, but they were providing financial and logistic support to an armed group that was. During the year, and perhaps not out of their own will, but M23 has ceased to – they’ve ceased to support M23 at this point. So the activity that gave rise to their designation is no longer occurring. And again, this is not something where even though it’s a full waiver – our intent is to provide a limited IMET for the professionalization of the military, giving training on civilian control of the military, human rights, military justice, and also to allow Rwanda to participate in peacekeeping missions. It’s a very important component of the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, for example. And so that’s what we had in mind there.
Somalia: Child soldiers recruitment remains a problem, but the scale of the problem has reduced significantly according to UN reports during the year. The government there signed some standard operating procedures for the reception and handover of children. They established a dedicated child protection unit. So on one side, they’ve made some progress – some significant progress on child soldiers, although not enough to get them off the list, and on the other side, of course, they’re in a very difficult struggle at this point with terrorist groups, and we want to support that effort. So that was the rationale for the waiver in that case.
And then finally, Yemen: Again, an important partner in counterterrorism efforts. It’s – and again – a country that has taken significant steps to reduce the use of child soldiers. They haven’t been fully effective yet, so that’s why they’re still on the list, but their tendency is in the right direction. They signed a joint action plan with the UN to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers. And basically, there the tradeoff was that if you completely stopped security assistance at this time, you’d jeopardize the country that is trying to make some reforms. So that was the rationale there.
So that is the overview. I think one of the things that’s notable that I – before I turn it over for questions – is in past years, we’ve tended to just say, okay, full waiver or sometimes a partial waiver, but this year with the ones that you saw – the partial waivers – they’re much more tailored than they’ve been in past years. We’re trying to make it clear that when we do a waiver, it’s still part of the message on child soldiers, that South Sudan isn’t getting a partial waiver because we think they’ve made an improvement on child soldiers; they’re getting a partial waiver only for the purpose of supporting the monitoring and verification mechanism. So that – it’s – we’re trying to be a lot – and Central African Republic, where we’re saying that there’s a waiver but it’s kind of contingent on positive developments in terms of standing up a professional armed forces and that kind of thing, and not just a – we don’t want – we didn’t – that was always sort of the policy attitude. We’d make the waiver, and then we’d have very tailored policies. But here, we’re trying to sort of announce those policies at the same time we announce the waiver to not muddy the message that we’re still concerned about child soldiers in those countries where they haven’t fully resolved the problem yet.
So with that, I – hopefully, that’s a decent overview of where we are, and I’d be happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Could you just identify yourself by name and outlet?
QUESTION: Sorry, I apologize. Yes. Jo Biddle from AFP, Agence France-Presse. Could you talk a little bit about the country where there was no – the countries where there was no waivers issued – Sudan, Burma, Syria?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yep.
QUESTION: This is the first time that there hasn’t been waivers. What is the extent of the problem in each of those countries?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Okay, it’s – in each of those countries, the problem has been bad. We haven’t seen significant steps to resolve them, and there weren’t any other activities that we wanted to engage in, such as supporting a monitoring mission or something that would have warranted a waiver.
I think that – I mean, Sudan has made sometimes steps to say that they’re going to do things, but – yeah, but how they – they haven’t really reduced the —
MS. ABDELHAQ: They have been in the process of negotiating an (inaudible) with the UN (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah, but it’s not done yet.
MS. ABDELHAQ: Has not been signed yet.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. So there – it’s a big problem. They made a couple of tentative steps, but they haven’t really completed the tentative steps, even, let alone implemented those agreements. Burma continues widespread use of child soldiers, both by the government and by armed groups on both sides of the conflict. It’s not only the government-supported forces, but that’s – the reason that the act gets triggered is the government either recruiting into its own armed services or supporting groups that do it. The fact that their opposition is doing it is irrelevant because the act doesn’t apply to that.
Syria, same kind of deal, where the government is recruiting child soldiers. And obviously, we’ve got no countervailing reasons to want to give security assistance to Syria for any purpose, so that’s the rationale there. I think all of those countries have been on the list in previous occasions and have not received waivers.
MS. ABDELHAQ: That’s correct.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. So —
QUESTION: And are you able to say how much money is involved in each country that’s on hold or not being appropriated as a result of these sanctions?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. Well, it’s – that’s a little bit speculative because – I can tell you more what monies would actually get done under – if I can find my fact sheet that’s here someplace. Because what happens is when you’re doing planning, if you know, for example, that Burma is – has had a big problem, has been on the sanctions list for some years and that you’re not seeing any change, you don’t plan in your budget planning process for funding for Burma. So it’s not like the money is set aside and waiting for them to do the right thing. We spend it on other countries that are doing the right thing. And that’s – so it’s – to say they lost X amount because of this is very —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: — speculative. But in terms of what is likely to go forward under this formula – for example, in Central African Republic, we’re talking around $100,000 in IMET. This is – these are ballpark figures, so —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: So if it turns out to be 110 or something – (laughter) – don’t say I misled you. But that was the – what the waiver is supposed to allow to go forward if they take the policy steps that I mentioned. For DRC, it’s 350,000 in IMET and as-yet undetermined amounts to support maritime security training with the Navy and some amount to support counter-LRA activity.
Now, what is also worthwhile to note in this case is that there’s often a big chunk of peacekeeping money that is going to support activities in those countries, which is not affected by CSPA in the first place. So, like, for DRC there’s 11 million in peacekeeping operations to support professionalization of their military. But that’s not one of the authorities that’s affected by the Child Soldiers Prevention Act.
Rwanda, we’re talking about 350,000 in IMET for – resume professionalization of the military, and then logistical support, not – don’t have a dollar amount on this yet, for their participation in a mission – peacekeeping missions in Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan, and Darfur. So again, that’s not – sort of a building capacity type of activity, but it’s – when their troops are in those places doing peacekeeping operations – well, their troops and other peacekeeping troops there – we tend to supply food, transport, that kind of thing to support them logistically.
Somalia, we’re talking 200,000 in IMET for continued professionalization of the military. There’s a as-yet undetermined amount of peacekeeping operations funds for logistic support and salaries and stipends for the Somalian military, and then some DOD counterterrorism funds.
South Sudan, we don’t know how much those two very narrow things I mentioned – we haven’t priced them out yet, but they’re very small amounts of money.
Yemen is the big dollars one, where there’s – the full waiver will free up 25 million in foreign military financing to build the counterterrorism capabilities of their military, and a million, too, in IMET to continue professionalization of the military. So that’s the one where you’re seeing some serious dollars being freed up as a result of the waivers. The others are in pretty small amounts.
QUESTION: My name is Munar Mawari, working for the Alaraby Aljadeed TV.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Welcome.
QUESTION: My question about Yemen is – you mentioned Yemen. The situation on the ground has changed in the last two weeks. The Houthi group took over the capital, and from their record, do you think the problem’s going to be worse or it’s going to change to the better after they are in control?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: You’re presuming they’re going to take control —
QUESTION: They did already.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: — yeah, of the capital. Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what – I mean, what the sanction applies to is what the behavior was in the last year. And then you have to look at it. Now, whether we want to continue providing for other reasons —
QUESTION: Would the report cover the country as a whole or the – you have categorized the —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, it’s – the report covers the government in power and any groups that they finance or train or direct. It doesn’t cover rebel groups fighting against the government or other armed groups that are not being supported by the government. So the government isn’t held responsible for groups that it doesn’t have some control over, but it does have it with respect to the groups it does finance.
QUESTION: But in any way that this group is using children? And we think that it’s going to – the problem is going to be worse because they are the government now, they are —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah.
QUESTION: — in control of the capital and —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: I don’t know. Mirvat, have we seen any further thinking on that?
MS. ABDELHAQ: Well, I mean, I think to the extent that we will continue to monitor the situation in the event of a government change and evaluate the recruitment and use of child soldiers. I think with respect to this report, it was looking at recruitment use by the current government.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. I mean, this is always built in that there’s a lag time in these things because you’re – because it’s March to —
MS. ABDELHAQ: I think it was April of last year through March.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah, March – April to March 30 or something is the – you’re applying the sanction based on what happened then, not on what’s happening now. Now that doesn’t mean that we will just go ahead and do whatever we would have done before. We took the steps of making the waivers so that we would be able to – we wouldn’t be barred by the law from providing assistance. Now whether it still makes sense to provide assistance as situations on the ground change, that’s an ongoing policy decision, not a legal decision.
MODERATOR: Do we have another question from —
QUESTION: Yeah, this is Mehtap Yilmaz from Voice of America Turkish service. I would like to hear more about the situation in Syria. You said government’s recruiting child soldiers. Do you have any numbers? And – or also, the other rebel groups and the opposition groups are also —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yes.
QUESTION: — hiring child soldiers. And do you have any number?
MS. ABDELHAQ: We don’t.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Don’t have numbers. I mean, I think that was our conclusion, is they’re all doing it, but —
MS. ABDELHAQ: Access is difficult (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. We don’t exactly have an embassy on the ground at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have any numbers, though, for any of the countries? Like, do you know in Burma, for instance, how many, roughly, child soldiers are included in the government forces?
MS. ABDELHAQ: With Burma, the only number that we know is how many the government is releasing. So they have some – they signed their action plan in 2012, released about 400 child soldiers. We don’t know how many are still in the government or how many are still being recruited. I think last year, the UN verified about 37 cases of recruitment when they (inaudible).
QUESTION: And any of the other countries? Do you have any numbers or —
MS. ABDELHAQ: It’s – we base our estimates off of the Secretary-General’s report. So the Children and Armed Conflict Working Group develops an annual report to the Secretary-General on the situations in 23 countries, and that’s what where we base a lot of our estimates.
QUESTION: So if I go to the UN Secretary-General site, I’ll be able to find some numbers out?
MS. ABDELHAQ: Yes.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: But as the Burma case tells you, it’s – they only catch a certain amount of what’s going on. I mean, Burma, it’s the – sort of the good news there is that they’ve been releasing child soldiers from the military. The bad news is they continue to recruit them, so it’s – they get credit for releasing them, but then they do the same cycle all over again, and that’s why they have not been seen as progressing.
So we’re hoping that they – that the releases continue and the recruitment stops. But there is a huge disparity between what they’ve been releasing and how many the UN’s been able to detect, and I suspect that that’s probably true in other countries as well. But the act, though, doesn’t – it isn’t a quantity thing. It’s if you do it at all.
QUESTION: Even one case —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah.
QUESTION: — would be enough to —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. Although I think you could probably – I don’t know if we have a de minimis exception.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Even in our country, sometimes people lie about their age and manage to —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: — get into the military, so if it were a case like that where – I don’t think we’d hold the government to account. But where it’s apparent that as a matter of practice and often of policy that they’re doing this – and in Burma, a lot of it’s forced recruitment too. It’s not a case of poor kids lying about their age in order to get into the military and get three square meals a day. It’s troops going out and rousting people away from their families and impressing them into service, and so —
MODERATOR: We have a question here.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Yes. Abdulaziz Osman with the VOA Somali Service. I got a question about the – Somalia. You said the child recruitment is – remains a problem. If the child recruitment remains problem, why Somalia get the waiver? I mean, was there any other steps that you could take if that problem still exists?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: No. There’s – the waiver doesn’t mean that they are not guilty of recruiting child soldiers, to the contrary. It means they are, and therefore, the sanction and the law would apply but for the waivers. So we’re waiving the sanction, not waiving the underlying offense that’s being committed. I mean, as I indicated, that – there the rationale was there’s been an improvement, even though it’s not a – the complete improvement that would get them off the list.
And then second, there’s some very strong countervailing issues that you don’t want the – your question implies in some way people tend to look at these things as a judge meting out a punishment for a crime or something like that, in which case you say, “Well, why don’t you apply the same sanction to everyone guilty of that?” We look at it more as like a doctor treating a patient. We’re trying to help the people in those countries that are trying to improve things to say, “What can we do to help them get rid of the problem of child soldiers?” And you don’t want to do something that’s going to kill the patient – (laughter) – where if you end up having al-Shabaab take over in Somalia because we couldn’t support the government at all, that’s not going to help the child soldier problem or any other human rights problem.
So it’s an effort to – in each case, to try to figure out what’s the right prescription that will make the maximum progress in the right direction without causing some fatal error somewhere else. And I think Somalia is a very good example of this. Somalia and Yemen both were – those were the rationales. We’ll see if Yemen survives the experience as yet.
But in other cases like Burma and so on, I mean, they’ve got internal conflicts going on, but they’re ones that they should be ending, not – it’s – they’re not conflicts for the survival of the country and they’re not dependent on our assistance, in any event. So that – in that case, there wasn’t any reason they haven’t – they haven’t done anything nearly enough to move in the right direction, and there’s no real countervailing reason that we need to be doing something to help them on some other human rights problem. So that – it’s that kind of an analysis that goes into each one of these. It’s very case-by-case type of —
QUESTION: And you said that the fund that the Somalis will get under this law is 200,000. Where is that money coming from?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: It’s under foreign assistance laws here. And it’s – this is international military education and training, so it’s a particular authority under our Foreign Assistance Act. It says the President is authorized to provide training and education to foreign militaries for – to make them more professional, to make them more capable, and so on. And so this – these are the kinds of things where either we bring officers from a foreign military to attend school in the United States or we send trainers out and train foreign militaries in their own countries. So it’s – the sanction applies to anything being funded under that authority. And so that – what we’re saying is because of the waiver now, we’re going to go ahead with whatever I said it was, 250,000 or something, 200,000 in IMET.
QUESTION: Okay. My last question – in Somalia there are more than 25,000 African Union troops in Mogadishu or in the southern Somalia.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah.
QUESTION: And the fight against al-Shabaab is being carried out both Somali army and the African Union troops. Are you aware any steps taken by the African Union troops to prevent any child soldier within the Somali army?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Within the Somali army or within their own?
QUESTION: Within – because African Union are not recruiting child soldier, but Somalis are being accused of recruiting child soldiers.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. I don’t know if AU as such is doing it. The UN certainly has worked with them.
MS. ABDELHAQ: I’m not confident to say anything on the record, but I would suspect there would be some kind of training, but I’m not sure.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: We’ll see if we can get you an answer on that one.
MR. KAAILU: To some degree it’s a matter of jurisdiction. When we’re talking about the Somali national army, we’re working with them bilaterally to deal with this issue. And we’re also working with the United Nations. The AU is responsible for a different mission, or I guess the African Mission to Somalia, AMISOM. So we can look into it. But my thought is that AMISOM is under AU authority, whereas the child soldier issue within the Somali national army is more of a bilateral or UN issue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Do you have any more questions?
QUESTION: I just have one more on the Burma situation. Of course we’ve seen some high-level government visits to Burma this year.
QUESTION: Is this something that is brought onto the table when Secretary Kerry goes?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Absolutely.
QUESTION: You are raising it at that level? Because you would think it might be —
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. I mean, we’ve had engagement at the level of the President, the Secretary. Our boss Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary, has been out and this gets talked about. And we even had – the deputy commander of Pacific Command went with Tom to Burma and gave a talk at the military college there and basically was giving a good speech on what – how we see professional militaries and their treatment on human rights grounds, and child soldiers, of course, is one of the many human rights issues. So we’re trying to be sure this gets seeded around. Again, the goal here is not to punish people for their bad behavior, but to persuade them to change it and to help them change it and to bring about a situation where you don’t have continued recruitment of child soldiers.
But I think Burma may be a good example. As you alluded, we’ve seen some real improvements on the human rights front in Burma over the last few years. And we’ve tried to encourage that. That has improved the relationship between the two countries quite a bit. But it doesn’t mean that some improvement results in total – a totally beautiful relationship. As long as there are issues like this, we’ll continue to raise them. That’s been our policy from the beginning. They called it action for action, which was that when you saw improvements on their side that would allow us to do certain things. And that’s what we’re saying here, is that it’s not that we want to keep Burma on the list for child soldiers forever and ever, it’s that we’re saying you need to do more to take the steps that will get you off that list.
And as I indicated at the lead, we’ve had the example this year of Chad, who’d been on there for some time, took the steps and got off. And we’re happy about that. That’s a success and mostly for the Chadians that it’s a success. So that’s what we’re – what we’re looking for and hoping for here. And we’re – and that’s what we’re trying to modulate this so that the message to these governments is you can’t – when you improve, it’s going to improve your situation. With us, we’ll help you do that. We’re not trying to punish you, we’re trying to help you to do the right thing, and so get with the program. And hopefully that will have that effect.
MODERATOR: I think that’s about all the time we have with Ambassador Kozak today. I want to thank you for coming.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Oh, thank you.
MODERATOR: I want to thank you for being here and helping facilitate discussion around this important issue. And so at that, I will officially close the roundtable. We are now off the record.
# # #