The Basij has more than earned a spot on the US’s blacklist as “specially designated global terrorists”, after decades of recruiting, training and dispatching hundreds of thousands of child soldiers and Afghan refugees into wars.
The Treasury Department said: “In addition to its involvement in violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses in Iran, the Basij recruits and trains fighters for the IRGC-QF, including Iranian children, who then deploy to Syria to support the brutal Assad regime.”
The full statement reveals that the IRGC used children as young as 12 as cannon fodder in its regional wars and that it has been sending children to fight in Syria since at least 2015. They even included a screenshot from a 2017 broadcast by the state-run IRIB, which showed a 13-year old Basij member in the Syrian border city of Abu Kamal, who said that he was a “defender of the shrine”. This is a euphemism used by the Iranian Regime to describe fighters it sends to Syria and Iraq.
This blacklist enforces sanctions on a number of Iranian companies, but it also freezes and Basij assets held in the US and ban US citizens from doing business with the Basij or any of its front companies. Essentially, the US has now put the Iranian economy in a chokehold, as the Basij is what the Regime rely on for the cash to fund their malign actions.
Of course, it isn’t just the Treasury who are punishing the Iranian Regime for its use of child soldiers – a clear violation of international law. The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley blasted Iran in front of the UN Security Council for its use of child soldiers.
She said: “The use of child soldiers is a moral outrage that every civilized nation rejects while Iran celebrates it… Iran’s economy is increasingly devoted to funding Iranian repression at home and aggression abroad. In this case, Iranian big business and finance are funding the war crime of using child soldiers. This is crony terrorism.”
Human Rights Watch also criticised Iran for using the children of Afghan refugees in their wars in an October 2017 report, where the group noted that the Iranian Regime was using schoolchildren to sweep minefields in Syria. In the report, they noted that the use of children under 15 in armed conflict is a war crime.
This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the Iranian Regime first began using child soldiers during the Iran-Iraq war, when hundreds of thousands of children were sent to fight after just three months’ training, with kids of only nine-years-old used in human wave attacks or to clear minefields for IRGC troops to cross.
Reza Shafiee, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), wrote: “Iranian child soldiers were sent into the battlefield with plastic keys around their necks. These keys symbolized their so-called permission to enter paradise. Sent ahead of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops and armoured vehicles, these children were used as ‘mine-clearers’. Most of them were blown up as they charged across the minefields, thereby clearing the way for the IRGC.”
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross at least 10% of Iranian prisoners of war were underage children, but worse still Iranian military officers captured by Iraqis admitted that 90% of Iranian child soldiers were killed in the battlefields.