Nicosia: The Turkish Foreign Ministry last Friday reacted angrily to its inclusion in a US report in the list of countries that are implicated for the use of child soldiers by Turkish-backed groups in Syria and Libya.
Turkey rejected these allegations as ‘unacceptable and baseless’ and complained that Washington turns a blind eye to the activities of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and Iraq who is involved in supplying arms and training to children for war.
The Foreign Ministry criticised “allegations made by some NGO reports, which are of dubious reliability” and based on “unfounded assumptions” and claimed that Turkey makes every effort to prevent human trafficking, punish criminals and protect victims of crime.
“Making such baseless accusations against US ally Turkey, with which it cooperates closely on many regional issues, is a grave contradiction and is never acceptable,” the Turkish Ministry concluded.
On July 1st, the United States in its 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report said that Turkey was providing “tangible support” to the Sultan Murad Division in Syria, a faction of Syrian opposition supported by Ankara which recruited and used child soldiers and also referred to the use of child soldiers in Libya.
Noting that it is the first time that a NATO member is included in such a list, the State Department added that “as a respected regional leader Turkey, has the opportunity to address this issue. The United States hopes to work with Turkey to encourage all groups involved in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts not to use child soldiers,” a senior State Department official said last week.
The list is compiled from first-hand information by US government personnel and research and credible reporting from various UN agencies, international organizations, local and international NGOs, and media outlets.
This year’s list includes Afghanistan, Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela and Yemen.
Human Rights Watch says that thousands of children are serving as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. “These boys and girls, some as young as eight years old serve in government forces and armed oppositions groups. They may fight on the front lines, participate in suicide missions, act as spies, messengers, or lookouts. Girls may be forced into sexual slavery. Many are abducted or recruited by force, while others join out of desperation, believing armed groups offer them best chance for survival.”
Back in 2008, US lawmakers adopted the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) which requires the US Secretary of State to publish an annual list of countries whose armed forces or government-backed armed groups recruit or use child soldiers.
This list is commonly referred to as the CSPA list and is published in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Person report. Countries included on the list are prohibited from receiving certain types of US military assistance, training, and defence equipment.
The restrictions will apply from October 1 till the end of the fiscal year 2022, except for those who receive a presidential waiver.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price declined to say if Turkey will face any limitation on military assistance following the report.
It was not immediately clear whether any restrictions would automatically apply to Turkey, but there is no doubt that Turkey’s inclusion in the CSPA list will further worsen the uneasy relations between Ankara and Washington, which in recent years have been strained due to the Turkish purchase of the S-400 Russian missile system and the imposition of US sanctions, differences over Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, Ankara’s aggressive moves in the Eastern Mediterranean and US President Joe Biden’s concern over abuses of human rights in Turkey.
It will also be difficult to say what impact Turkey’s inclusion in the CSPA list will have on the negotiations underway between Ankara and Washington concerning Turkey’s proposal to guard and run the Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul, after the expected withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.
The operation and guarding of the airport are believed to be of crucial importance for the operation of diplomatic missions out of the Afghani capital.
Turkey is requesting financial, logistical and other support so as to undertake the task of protecting and running the airport, and the US administration apparently wants to reach an agreement with Turkey on this issue, so that the withdrawal of US troops by 9/11 as Biden promised, is not followed immediately by chaos. Ned Price said the two things won’t likely be linked.
“When it comes to trafficking in persons, I would not want to link the report today with the constructive discussions we’re engaging in with Turkey, in the context of Afghanistan or any other area of shared interest,” he said in a briefing.
“When it comes to trafficking in persons, I would not want to link the report today with the constructive discussions we’re engaging in with Turkey, in the context of Afghanistan or any other area of shared interest.”
But if the negotiations fail to produce any result, the US Administration may decide on a waiver and Turkey will not be subject to the restrictions envisaged by the CSPA law. Shannon Dick and Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Center in an article published in July 2020 pointed out, “More often than not over the CSPA law’s history, the administration has elected to use such waivers and thereby allow sanctioned governments to receive otherwise prohibited US weapons and security assistance. Through national interest waivers, the executive branch has consistently undermined the law’s intent and, as a result, the law has failed to reach its full potential. In total, the US government is estimated to have waived more than USD 4 billion in US arms and security assistance to CSPA-blacklisted countries over the last 10 years.”