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State Department officials accuse Rex Tillerson of violating child soldier laws

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been formally accused by approximately a dozen of his own department's officials of violating federal child soldier laws, Reuters reports. The State Department publicly acknowledges that Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan have child soldiers, although Tillerson removed the three countries from the U.S. list of offenders in June. "Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance," Reuters explains.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act bars countries known to have soldiers under the age of 18 from receiving aid, weapons, or training from the United States. Special exceptions can be made, such as when the Obama administration issued waivers for Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Somalia in 2016, a move that was criticized at the time by organizations like Human Rights Watch.

"The dissenting U.S. officials stressed that Tillerson's decision to exclude Iraq, Afghanistan, and Myanmar went a step further than the Obama administration's waiver policy by contravening the law and effectively easing pressure on the countries to eradicate the use of child soldiers," Reuters reports. Tillerson's adviser, Brian Hook, defended the decision, claiming that while Afghanistan, Iraq, and Myanmar may still have child soldiers, they are "making sincere — if as yet incomplete — efforts" to curb the practice.

The State Department officials used a "dissent channel" to express their disapproval of Tillerson's decision. The memo was sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the State Department's inspector general's office. The ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), said Tillerson's actions "sent a powerful message to these countries that they were receiving a pass on their unconscionable actions." Read more about the memo and federal child soldier laws at Reuters.