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Children in US Warzones


The UN just released its annual report on “Children and Armed Conflict.”  A number of states, as well as non-state actors, are highlighted in this report as engaged in the serious abuse of children in the course of an armed conflict.  And, a number of the perpetrators are being aided and abetted by U.S. military aid, and have been for years.  Moreover, some of the conflicts resulting in the worst abuse of children were in fact unleashed by military interventions of the United States.

However, you would not know any of this from the coverage given to this report by Western media sources.  Thus, the almost-invariable headline about this report focuses upon Syria, such as CNN’s headline, “U.N. report: Syrian children tortured, used as human shields.”  Of course, the details in the UN Report about the abuse of children by Syrian government forces is shocking and quite worthy of press coverage and condemnation.

At the same time, the systematic abuse of children by forces the U.S. is funding — and in some cases by U.S. and NATO forces themselves — would seem even more relevant to the citizens of the U.S. who should be knowledgeable about how their tax dollars are being used, and indeed ill-used, around the world.  Possibly, the view of the media, in keeping with that of the U.S. government, is that U.S.-sponsored abuses should remain unknown to the American people lest they challenge these abuses.  Therefore, as Noam Chomsky recently opined, our government and media naturally tend to focus on “Somebody Else’s Atrocities.”

Moreover, since the U.S. is bent on militarily intervening in Syria, the media is clearly of the view that anything they can do to vilify Syria should be done.  However, if any lesson is to be drawn from the UN Report, it is that the suffering and abuse of children is only increased by armed conflict – including the conflict in Syria itself which the U.S. and its allies have been stoking by supporting armed actors there –and by military intervention, including intervention by U.S. forces and forces aligned with the U.S.

Two cases illustrating this conclusion are those of Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DNC).   Let’s start with Somalia first.   Somalia is now steeped in a civil conflict which is devastating to civilians, including children, and which is largely of the U.S.’s making.  This conflict was created by the U.S.’s full backing and financing of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 – an invasion ostensibly supported to fight terrorism, but which has in fact led to more terrorism and human devastation in the form of ongoing armed conflict and mass famine.

The U.S.-sponsored invasion toppled a fairly stable government, the Union of Islamic Courts, and led to the installation of the still Transitional Federal Government which the U.S. continues to back.   According to the UN Report on “Children and Armed Conflict,” children are being victimized by all sides of the ensuing armed conflict which continues to this day.  Amongst the multitude of harms listed, the UN Report documents “[a] total of 252 cases of rape and sexual violence” committed against children in 2011, mostly at the hands of the U.S.-backed Transnational Federal Government “and allied militia.”   Quite disturbingly, “[i]n August and September 2011, the United Nations noted a trend emerging where multiple perpetrators raped the same victims in a group setting.”  Such facts being inconvenient to the media narrative of the U.S. as a positive, moral force needed to protect civilians throughout the world, they are simply left unreported.

Similarly, in the DNC, the U.S. backed and financed an invasion of that country by Rwanda in 1996, again leading to a violent armed conflict which continues to this day and which has claimed the lives of around 6 million civilians.  The U.S. continues to support Rwanda’s proxy war in the DNC which, the UN Report explains, is leading to the forced recruitment of child soldiers, the killing and maiming of children, as well as “[s]exual violence against children” by all parties to this conflict, including those being sponsored by Rwanda and the United States.  A prior (2010) UN report, moreover, accuses Rwanda of committing genocide in the DNC.  And yet, one strains to find any mention of the DNC conflict, much less the U.S. role in it, in the daily news coverage.

Also missing from the current news coverage is mention of the fact that the UN Report documents the killing of 110 children and the injury of 68 others in 2011 by airstrikes carried out by the United States and Afghan forces backed by the U.S.  As the UN Report notes, the child casualties of such airstrikes doubled in 2011 over the previous year.  News coverage is equally silent about the abuse of children detained by U.S.-backed Afghan forces, “including beatings, electrical shocks and threats of sexual violence.”

Finally, while the UN Report did not mention it, one should also consider the disastrous effects of the U.S.’s campaign against the town of Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.  As famed reporter Robert Fisk explains in graphic detail in his 3-part series, the U.S.’s use of white phosphorous in this campaign has led to horrifying birth defects to which children are still being born, just as the children of Vietnam continue to be born to birth defects due to the U.S.’s use of Agent Orange in that country three decades ago.

The point of all of this, missed by the press in their coverage of the UN Report, is that war — including war and intervention waged by the U.S. – puts children in the way of such harms as killings, maimings, detention, displacement and sexual violence.   So, while the U.S. and the corporate media contemplate but another intervention in Syria and/or Iran in the name of the “responsibility to protect” civilians, one should contemplate the reality of such interventions on those civilians we claim to protect.

Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh. 


Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

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