THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Eric Schwartz for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
MR. CROWLEY: We basically have a foreign policy morning in progress here. You've heard from the President. This afternoon he goes up to New York to sign two protocols regarding children. And then also, in a couple of minutes, the President meets with family members and representatives from religious organizations regarding the recent verdicts regarding the Baha'i Jews that were convicted by Iranian courts. And after that, there will be representatives at the stakeout, and we'll do a readout of that meeting informally.
But first, just to briefly tee up the President's trip to New York this afternoon, Eric Schwartz, who is the Senior Director of the National Security Council for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs, will give you a brief synopsis of these two protocols.
We'll start off with Eric ON THE RECORD.
MR. SCHWARTZ: I'll just take a minute or two to describe what the President is going to be doing this afternoon in New York. He'll be signing two important protocols. These are basically international agreements advancing international efforts to eliminate abuses against children.
The United States will be among the first to sign these two protocols, these two agreements. The first is on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the second is on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
The President intends to submit these protocols to the Senate later this month for advice and consent, and the administration will seek to work very closely with the Senate in efforts to achieving ratification.
Let me say a very brief word about each one of these agreements. The protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict in the United States, I think we will be about the eighth government to have signed this protocol when the President does it this afternoon. This is a terrible problem, from Angola to Colombia. Children as young as seven or eight are engaged in various forms of armed conflict in many parts of the world.
Now, this agreement has a few critical features. First, it will mandate that governments take all feasible measures to ensure that persons below the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. It will also bar compulsory recruitment below the age of 18 and mandate that all states set a minimum voluntary recruitment age above the current standard, which is 15. It will also require that states do everything possible to prevent nongovernmental groups, insurgencies, from using and recruiting children under 18.
Let me just say that, especially in terms of the requirement, that we take all feasible measures to ensure that those under 18 do not take an active part in hostilities. The Departments of State and Defense were deeply involved in these negotiations. The Department of Defense in particular carefully considered whether we could undertake such an obligation, and concluded that we could do so while fully protecting our recruitment and our readiness requirements.
Let me say a quick word about the second agreement, the second optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. This agreement is a significant advance for several reasons. First, it actually defines these terms internationally for states that are looking to promulgate domestic law, and it requires that these abuses be criminalized. States that are part of this protocol are required to criminalize these abuses.
It also establishes clear and strong grounds for jurisdiction and extradition. In fact, the protocol itself provides a basis for extradition for these crimes, and there are extensive provisions in the protocol for cooperation between states in dealing with these really horrendous abuses.
So these are the two instruments that the President will sign this afternoon in New York, and if anyone has any questions, I'd be happy to take them.
Q Do you have any idea of how many children are involved in conflict and prostitution and pornography? And secondly, am I right in thinking that these are protocols to an agreement or a convention that the United States has not ratified, so we're lending our name to something that we haven't approved the overall agreement?
MR. SCHWARTZ: The short answer to your second question is yes, but these protocols are free-standing, and by their terms they indicate that countries that have not ratified the underlying convention can certainly ratify -- sign and ratify the protocol.
The U.S. signed the convention -- the underlying convention on the rights of children in 1995 and we certainly support its objectives of promoting children's rights throughout the world. We haven't submitted the convention to the Senate for advice and consent.
Frankly, many senators have expressed concerns that the convention would infringe on U.S. sovereignty, on the rights of parents and on state and local law, and given these particular concerns, our own first priority as an administration has been to work toward Senate advice and consent and ratification of those human rights instruments where we have clearly a broader consensus within both the Executive and Legislative Branches, such as earlier in this administration the elimination on all forms of racial discrimination.
Last year, we ratified an ILO convention on the worst forms of child labor. So that has been our priority focus. But these protocols stand on their own and we are fully authorized to sign and ratify them, notwithstanding the underlying convention.
Q And the number of children involved that you're --
MR. SCHWARTZ: It's difficult to say, but I don't think tens of thousands would be too much of an overstatement.
Q In both categories, or just --
MR. SCHWARTZ: I can't speak about sale of children, child pornography and prostitution. I just don't know.
Q So your tens of thousands is involved in conflict -- armed --
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yes, in recent years tens of thousands. I would say at least.
Q The first protocol deals with keeping children directly out of conflict. Is there any measure to address children playing other roles in the conflict? I mean, like cooking food or bringing supplies? Children play a lot of roles in some of these Third World conflicts.
MR. SCHWARTZ: This gets into sort of definitions. I really would refer you to the Department of Defense, which is in the process of putting together proposed guidelines. And the all-feasible measures standard in the protocol recognizes the fact that you could have a company or battalion in a certain situation where they are not involved in hostilities, but they could find themselves involved in hostilities. And the protocol obviously allows for that fact.
Q Presumably, these protocols achieve some or most of the named intentions of the '95 convention on rights of children, which has yet to be ratified. And if that's the case, is there anything in the wording of these protocols that suggest they'll have any trouble with the Senate?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, first, let me say in direct response, our ratification of these protocols do not imply obligations to any other agreements which the United States has not ratified, and that's a critical point, and I think it addresses your question directly, because the United States was deeply involved in the negotiations surrounding both these protocols, and there were a great deal of discussions back and forth within the Departments of Defense, State and Justice with respect to the exploitation of children protocol, and we fully supported adoption of both protocols on their terms.
The problem you suggested doesn't exist because our accession to these two protocols, again, does not imply undertaking obligations to an agreement that we haven't ratified.
Q Did they require any changes in U.S. law?
MR. SCHWARTZ: On the children in armed conflict, the answer to that question is no, and I believe the answer to the second one is no, but I would need to check on it and we'll get back to you. I'm not 100 percent sure on the second, but let me get back to you on the second.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
11:33 A.M. EDT
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