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The Leahy Ammendment

Limitation on Assistance to Security Forces
(The "Leahy Law")

The "Leahy Law," a provision in recent appropriations legislation, prohibits U.S. military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. Known by the name of its principal sponsor, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the provision has become the most important legal tool used to promote respect for human rights through U.S. security assistance programs.

The Leahy Law's jurisdiction has slowly expanded since it first appeared as part of the 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act (P.L. 104-208). Initially, the law applied only to the State Department's International Narcotics Control (INC) program. It was broadened in Fiscal Year 1998 to include all security assistance programs funded through the Foreign Operations Act, and in Fiscal Year 1999 was extended to include training programs authorized under the Defense Department Appropriations bill.
The Leahy Law in the 2001 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act (Sec. 563 of P.L. 106-429) states:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be provided to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights, unless the Secretary determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the government of such country is taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.
While the Foreign Operations law covers both training and assistance (such as weapons grants), the Leahy Law in the 2001 Defense Appropriations Act (Sec. 8092 of P.L. 106-259) covers only training, and states:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to support any training program involving a unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of Defense has received credible information from the Department of State that a member of such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, unless all necessary corrective steps have been taken.
The Defense Appropriations version of the Leahy Law allows the Secretary of Defense to waive the provision if he determines that 兎xtraordinary circumstances・ require it. Within fifteen days of issuing such a waiver, the secretary must submit a report to the congressional defense committees 電escribing the extraordinary circumstances, the purpose and duration of the training program, the United States forces and the foreign security forces involved in the training program, and the information relating to human rights violations that necessitates the waiver.・/font>
To implement the Leahy Law, each U.S. embassy has established a 砺etting procedure・ to review the backgrounds of military units for which assistance has been proposed. Within Latin America, the Leahy Law has been most vigorously enforced in Colombia.
There has been some controversy within the Departments of State and Defense about how to interpret the law, in particular as it applies to Defense-funded programs. One issue is how broadly to interpret the word "unit" when training is the type of assistance to be provided. According to a July 1999 report from the General Accounting Office (GAO), "in a May 8, 1999, cable to all overseas embassies, the State Department defined the unit to be trained as the unit to be vetted. Thus, for individual training, the individual will be vetted. For unit-level training, the unit itself will be vetted."1  
In other words, if an entire company is to be trained, the backgrounds of every member of the company (not the brigade or battalion) are vetted. If an individual is to be trained, then the individual is the "unit." This applies both to training in-country and in the United States. As a result, for instance, training is regularly provided to 田lean・individuals from Colombian military units that fail to meet the Leahy standards.
Another issue debated within the Defense Department legislation is how to interpret the provision that "all necessary corrective steps" must be taken when a credible accusation of abuse exists. According to the GAO, the Defense Department痴 policy guidance considers 殿djusting the planned activity or participants・to be appropriate 田orrective action to address situations where there is credible information of gross human rights violations by a member of a unit.・small>2 This apparently can mean that if the offending individual is temporarily removed from the unit for the duration of a training activity, the activity can continue.
The GAO found that State Department officials "do not view the lack of a clear definition of all necessary corrective steps as a problem. Rather, their belief is that State generally will not allow any training to proceed if embassies discover any credible evidence of gross human rights violations."3
Other 砥nresolved implementation issues・listed in the July 1999 GAO report include:
1.      Whether every individual in a unit needs to be screened or whether screening the collective human rights record of a unit is sufficient;
2.      What DOD-funded activities require human rights screening;
3.      How far back in time embassies must screen for human rights abuses; and
4.      The extent to which embassies must screen for human rights violations in countries with no history of such abuse.4 Sources:
1 United States, General Accounting Office, Military Training: Management and Oversight of Joint Combined Exchange Training, document number GAO/NSIAD-99-173, (Washington, DC: GAO, July 1999) 53 <>. Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) version <>.
2 GAO 55.
3 GAO 56.
4 GAO 11.

Copyright 1991 The Akha Heritage Foundation