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