Nov. 21 (UPI) -- State Department officials have accused Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of violating federal law by excluding three countries from a list tracking militaries that fund or use child soldiers.
The officials issued a so-called "dissent" memo over Tillerson's decision to omit the three countries -- Afghanistan, Iraq and Myanmar -- from the Trafficking in Persons Report. Internal lawyers and regional bureau heads unanimously recommended the three countries be included on the report, The New York Times reported.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., wrote a letter to Tillerson expressing concern over the decision.
"I have since received troubling reports supporting those accounts, as well as a Dissent Channel message from career State Department officials arguing that the decision is inconsistent with U.S. law and will adversely affect efforts to protect children from being recruited and used as soldiers," Cardin wrote.
The State Department is required to publish a list of countries whose militaries recruit or use child soldiers Under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008.
Countries named on the list are ineligible for military assistance including financing, military education and training, direct commercial sales and foreign military and peacekeeping operations.
"Based on that dissent memo and the subsequent response from your staff, I am concerned about the precedent this action may set and the message it could send to countries that still have not ended child soldiering," Cardin added.
Upon releasing the 2017 list in January, Tillerson justified the decision to remove the three countries citing their efforts to crack down on the use of child soldiers.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said numbers in the reports led to the countries being removed, adding that advisory reports for some countries detailed clear and excessive use of child soldiers, while other accounts provided less clear numbers.
"No one in the United States government likes the idea of the use of child soldiers. It is abhorrent, OK?" she said.
Dissenting officials argued Tillerson's decision violated federal law as the conditions for removal from the list focused on eradication, not concerted effort or progress.
They added Tillerson's exclusion of the three countries "has risked sending a message to the authorities in all three countries -- and to the international community -- that minimal efforts are enough."