ANKARA – Turkey’s foreign ministry has slammed a United States report on human trafficking that criticised Ankara for providing “operational, equipment, and financial support” to an armed militia in Syria that recruits child soldiers.
In a statement late on Friday, the Turkish foreign ministry said it “completely rejects” the claim and its record is clean.
The statement also accuses Washington of “double standards and hypocrisy” pointing to American support for Syrian Kurdish militants. It cites a United Nations report that documented child recruitment and exploitation under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Turkey says Syrian Kurdish militants that provided the backbone of the SDF fighting the militant Islamic State group were linked to Kurdish fighters who have been waging an insurgency against Turkey for more than three decades and are designated as terrorists. American support for them has been a major irritant in US-Turkish relations.
On Thursday, the US State Department highlighted Turkey and 14 other countries, including Pakistan, for the use of child soldiers. It was the first time a Nato ally was placed on such a list.
The designation could lead to strict sanctions on military assistance and listed countries’ participation in peacekeeping programmes.
The US Child Soldiers Prevention Act requires publication in the annual TIP report of a list of foreign governments that have recruited or used child soldiers during the previous year (April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021). The entities reviewed for this designation include armed forces, police, other security forces and government-supported armed groups.
The 2021 CSPA list includes the governments of the following countries: Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela and Yemen.
Pakistan rejects ‘baseless inclusion’
The Foreign Office on Friday said the move depicted “a factual error and lack of understanding”, and urged Washington to review the “baseless assertions” made against the country in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, 2021.
The FO in a statement said no state institution was consulted by the US prior to the publication of the report. “Nor were any details provided of the basis on which the conclusion was reached,” it added.
The statement emphasised that Pakistan neither supported any non-state armed group nor any entity recruiting or using child soldiers, saying “Pakistan’s efforts in fighting non-state armed groups including terrorist entities are well-recognised.”
It maintained that Pakistan was committed to fighting “this scourge — both at the national and international levels”.
“We have taken a range of legislative and administrative actions in that regard during the last one year, including approval of rules under the domestic Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Acts; National Action Plan 2021-25 prepared jointly by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); and enhancement of capacity-building and inter-agency cooperation of law-enforcement agencies involved in anti-human smuggling,” it added.
“Pakistan calls upon the authorities concerned in the United States to review the baseless assertions made in the TIP report, especially with regard to the unwarranted inclusion of Pakistan in the ‘CSPA List’,” the FO said.