Van Hollen, Jacobs present legislation to extend human rights screening for security cooperation programs

July 12, 2022

Upholding the Human Rights Abroad Act would fill a human rights review gap in the Pentagon’s security cooperation programs

Today Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.-53) introduced the Human Rights Abroad Act, a law designed to close loopholes in the Leahy Acts, implementing the necessary oversight of Pentagon security cooperation programs, and ensuring that the United States does not provide security assistance to human rights abusers under two key Defense Department funding agencies. The Human Rights Abroad Act would also increase transparency and expand reporting requirements to strengthen oversight.

While US law prohibits the provision of security assistance to recipients found to have committed gross human rights abuses — known as Leahy Law — loopholes remain in place. In particular, two Department of Defense security cooperation programs – “Section 127 Echo” and “Section 1202” – are not subject to human rights reviews. The law on the protection of human rights abroad closes this gap.

“No matter what part of the world we operate in, the US should conduct our missions in a manner that protects and supports human rights.” said Senator Van Hollen. “But for too long, legal loopholes have allowed the Department of Defense to circumvent proper verification, reporting and oversight protocols when providing certain types of military assistance to other nations or groups. I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Congresswoman Jacobs to fill these gaps, to promote human rights abroad, and to give Americans confidence that their tax dollars are strengthening our national security and not supporting bad actors.”

“Respect for human rights in our security assistance is critical to US leadership on the world stage,”said Congressman Jacobs. “I am proud to introduce the Human Rights Abroad Act with Senator Van Hollen. Human rights screening is an essential part of how we work with other countries, but in recent years Section 127e and Section 1202 have circumvented these screening requirements and, in some cases, applied them to partners who have consistently violated human rights. United States support for unproven human rights abusers is not only deeply immoral and irresponsible, it is counterproductive and fuels more unrest, instability and terrorist activity.”

“The purpose of the Leahy Act is to prevent US aid from assisting foreign security force units that violate human rights.” said Senator Leahy. “Nonetheless, the Pentagon has not applied this standard to specific security cooperation programs with foreign forces. The Pentagon should have closed this gap on its own. The Human Rights Abroad Act will ensure that the Leahy Act is applied consistently, so that foreign partners are screened and those who violate human rights are excluded from these programs.”

Senator Van Hollen is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy. Congresswoman Jacobs is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This legislation will be co-led by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) in the Senate and Congressmen Tom Malinowski (DN.J.-7), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas-20). . , and Jason Crow (D-Colo.-06) indoors.

“Clandestine security cooperation programs such as the so-called 127e and 1202 pose serious risks to US support for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. But for too long, the Pentagon has exempted these programs from legally required human rights due diligence and review. This critical legislation would close that loophole and help ensure US funding and aid does not support gross abuses in the name of national security.” said Annie Shiel, Senior Advisor for the United States, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)

“Both for moral values ​​and national security reasons, the United States must avoid supporting foreign forces that violate human rights and international humanitarian law. This legislation will fill an important loophole by ensuring that the Pentagon considers a foreign military’s human rights record before providing counter-terrorism weapons and training.” said Diana Ohlbaum, Legislative Director for Foreign Policy, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL).

“The Human Rights Abroad Act is an important step in ensuring that the United States does not use taxpayer money to fund or assist gross human rights abuses in other countries under the guise of US ‘national security’.” said Daphne Eviatar, Director, Security with Human Rights, Amnesty International USA.

The US government has a responsibility to screen recipients of its security aid for serious human rights violations.” said Sarah Yager, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Should the Human Rights Abroad Act go into effect, it would fill dangerous and long-standing loopholes in the monumental Leahy Acts, which govern US screening of recipients of security aid. The law would strengthen protections to ensure the United States does not cooperate with individuals involved in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”

“For too long, overly broad laws have allowed US troops to be deployed on conflict and security cooperation missions around the world without adequate oversight by Congress. Advancing US security means working with partners committed to upholding US values ​​- without violating human rights and undermining democracy. And we need far better oversight of programs like 127e, which can result in US soldiers falling into hostilities and losing their lives, as four warriors did in the Tongo Tongo, Niger, ambush five years ago. The Human Rights Abroad Act is an important step toward restoring congressional oversight and upholding US values ​​in our national security policy, and we are proud to support it,” said Mary Kaszynski, Director of Government Relations, VoteVets.

Legal text on the protection of human rights abroad, section by section.

U.S. law allows the Secretary of Defense to spend up to $100 million per year to support partners who facilitate or support authorized U.S. counter-terrorism special forces. According to open-source reports, this agency has been used to conduct operations in Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Tunisia, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – all of which have raised serious concerns in the State Department’s country reports on human rights and have been practiced for years.

The Human Rights Abroad Act would fill this loophole in the Leahy Act, so that we do not provide funds or assistance to recipients who have committed human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law.

In particular, the Law on the Protection of Human Rights Abroad would:

  • Request the Department of Defense to establish processes and report on steps taken to ensure recipients of Section 127e and Section 1202 programs have not committed gross human rights abuses
  • Request the Department of Defense to conduct Leahy human rights reviews for potential Section 127e and Section 1202 recipients
  • Expand reporting requirements to include an assessment of how Section 127e and 1202 programs advance U.S. national security priorities and align with other U.S. government efforts in recipient countries
  • Consistent with section 1202, clarify that section 127e does not authorize the use of US forces in hostilities, unauthorized US special operations, or activities inconsistent with the laws of armed conflict

This legislation is endorsed by: Center for Civilians in Conflict, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, VoteVets, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Center for International Policy, Government Information Watch, Center for Constitutional Rights, Brennan Center for Justice, Oxfam America, DAWN, SaferWorld, InterAction, Women’s Action for New Directions, American Friends Service Committee, Win Without War and NYU School of Law Global Justice Clinic.*

*Disclaimer: This communication does not purport to represent the institutional views, if any, of New York University.

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