Massimino Testimony Outlines Strategic Importance of Leahy Law Vetting

Washington, D.C. – As Congress debates how the United States will conduct foreign counterterrorism operations, Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino will testify today about the Leahy Law, a critical tool requiring the State Department to vet all potential recipients of U.S. military training and assistance for credible evidence of gross human rights violations. Massimino will testify before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations at the hearing, “Human Rights Vetting: Nigeria and Beyond.” Human Rights First notes that today’s hearing is an important opportunity for Congress to strengthen Leahy Law implementation.

“While the United States serves its national interest when it lives up to its ideals, the converse is also true: it is evident from years of experience that U.S. national security is degraded when our partners engage in abusive and predatory practices,” said Massimino in her testimony. “The Leahy Law is a common-sense proposition, a way to ensure that lethal aid only goes to law-abiding, responsible partners. It’s not only one of the most constructive pieces of human rights legislation we have, it’s an insurance policy.”

The Leahy Law prevents the United States from offering assistance to any unit of a foreign military if there is credible information that a member of the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights and has not been investigated or held accountable. It is a common-sense proposition, a way to ensure that lethal aid only goes to law-abiding, responsible partners. The Leahy Law is a fundamental tool in U.S. policy that not only because it bans the United States from partnering with criminals, but also because it signals when there is an institutional problem with security assistance recipients who allow criminals to remain in their units with impunity.

Massimino also points out that, contrary to the positions of some members of Congress and the military, the Leahy Law is not an obstacle to pursuing the United States’ security goals. As she noted in her testimony, “The problem isn’t the Leahy Law: the problem is security units that perpetrate and tolerate abuse. Human rights vetting is just the signal that they are not suitable partners for the United States. To blame human rights vetting is to blame the messenger of bad—and essential—news. The United States needs to know when security forces, because of their human rights records, do not have the trust of their own population. In the case of Nigeria, the abuses of security forces have helped fuel the growth of Boko Haram.”

In her testimony, Massimino makes the following key recommendations for Congress:

  • Unify the implementation and remediation guidelines;
  • Consider expanding the Leahy Law to apply to intelligence agencies;
  • Increase the numbers of vetters to expedite approvals;
  • Expand the use of local activists in the vetting process;
  • Invest in remediation efforts; and
  • Exercise the “duty to inform.”

For more information or to speak with Massimino, contact Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319.


Published on July 10, 2014


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