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An Overview of the Leahy Vetting Process

An Overview of the Leahy Vetting Process


Consistent with U.S. law and policy, the Department of State vets its assistance to foreign security forces, as well as certain Department of Defense training programs, to ensure that recipients have not committed gross human rights abuses. When the vetting process uncovers credible information that an individual or unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, U.S. assistance is withheld.

The obligation to vet Department of State (DoS) assistance and Department of Defense (DoD)-funded training programs for foreign security forces units is in section 620M (a.k.a., the Leahy amendment) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and a comparable provision in the annual DoD Appropriations Act. While the DoS legislation applies to all “assistance” under the FAA and the Arms Export Control Act, the DoD law is specific to “training programs” funded under Defense Department Appropriations Acts.

Security forces units subject to Leahy vetting generally include foreign militaries, reserves, police, homeland security forces such as border guards or customs police, prison guards, and other units or individual members of units authorized to use force.

Vetting Process

The Leahy vetting process is as follows:

1. The appropriate U.S. embassy enters those individuals or units nominated for training or assistance into an internal DoS database, called the International Vetting and Security Tracking (INVEST) system, and initially vets the individuals or units using governmental, nongovernmental and media resources on human rights abuses in the relevant country. These resources include the DoS Country Reports on Human Rights, U.S. government agency records, including consular records and embassy files and databases, NGO human rights reports and information and media articles. Most embassies also undertake checks with local police and government for other derogatory information. In appropriate cases, embassies may interview individual victims where there are indications that government forces have been involved in a gross human rights violation.

Should any credible derogatory information be uncovered in local vetting, the embassy may deny or suspend the individual or unit from assistance, or seek guidance from Washington. INVEST creates a permanent record of any finding of derogatory information, human rights-related or otherwise, and posts upload the specific information for further review as the vetting process continues.

2. In Washington, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and regional bureaus receive the results of home country vetting through the INVEST system after posts complete their checks and submit results. Every individual or unit from a country of human rights concern who is not denied or suspended by post is also subject to vetting by both DRL and the relevant regional bureau through additional information sources in Washington. If any Washington vetter finds credible derogatory unclassified information, they enter the information into INVEST and a review of that information by DRL and the relevant regional bureau occurs. If all vetters agree that the derogatory information is credible, and the violation or issue is of sufficient severity to prohibit training or assistance in accordance with the Leahy amendment or other U.S. laws and policies, the individual or unit is deemed ineligible and the decision is recorded in INVEST. In order to clarify the facts in situations where gross human rights violations appear to have occurred, the Department may seek additional information from credible sources, including local and international NGOs, witnesses and victims.

3. If there is need for further review of the negative information, DRL assembles a broader team of State Department representatives and may request further information from the home country embassy. Until a decision is reached, the assistance in question remains on hold. The State Department then makes a decision on the case and assistance is either denied or authorized; the result is recorded in INVEST. If agreement cannot be reached before the training is scheduled to start, the candidate will not be trained. Posts are automatically notified of final Leahy vetting results through INVEST.

Credible Information

The Department determines if derogatory information is credible on a case-by-case basis. For information to be deemed “credible,” it is not required to meet the same standard as would apply to admit evidence in a U.S. court of law, but consideration is given to the source, the details available, the applicability to the individual or unit, the circumstances in the relevant country, the availability of corroborating information, and other factors.

Text of Leahy Laws

Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended: Section 620M “Limitation on Assistance to Security Forces”

(a) IN GENERAL. – No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.

(b) EXCEPTION. –The prohibition in subsection (a) shall not apply if the Secretary determines and reports to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and the Committees on Appropriations that the government of such country is taking effective steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.

(c) DUTY TO INFORM. – In the event that funds are withheld from any unit pursuant to this section, the Secretary of State shall promptly inform the foreign government of the basis for such action and shall, to the maximum extent practicable, assist the foreign government in taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces to justice.

(d) CREDIBLE INFORMATION. The Secretary shall establish, and periodically update, procedures to

(1) ensure that for each country the Department of State has a current list of all security force units receiving United States training, equipment, or other types of assistance;

(2) facilitate receipt by the Department of State and United States embassies of information from individuals and organizations outside the United States Government about gross violations of human rights by security force units;

(3) routinely request and obtain such information from the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other United States Government sources;

(4) ensure that such information is evaluated and preserved;

(5) ensure that when vetting an individual for eligibility to receive United States training the individual’s unit is also vetted;

(6) seek to identify the unit involved when credible information of a gross violation exists but the identity of the unit is lacking; and

(7) make publicly available, to the maximum extent practicable, the identity of those units for which no assistance shall be furnished pursuant to subsection (a).

DOD Appropriations Act for FY 2012 Sec. 8058:

“(a) 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 the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, unless all necessary corrective steps have been taken.

(b) The Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall ensure that prior to a decision to conduct any training program referred to in subsection (a), full consideration is given to all credible information available to the Department of State relating to human rights violations by foreign security forces.

(c) The Secretary of Defense, after consultation with the Secretary of State, may waive the prohibition in subsection (a) if he determines that such waiver is required by extraordinary circumstances.

(d) Not more than 15 days after the exercise of any waiver under subsection (c), the Secretary of Defense shall submit a report to the congressional defense committees describing 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.”

A brief outline of Leahy vetting conducted by the U.S. Department of State can be found here: Leahy Vetting - Law, Policy, and Process

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