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.
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.
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
I congratulate the Human Rights Council for its work to create an international independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and to make clear the world’s concern for the Syrian people. Today, the international community joined together to denounce the Syrian regime’s horrific violence. The United States worked closely with countries from every part of the world – more than 30 members of the Human Rights Council, including key Arab members — to establish this mandate.
The Commission of Inquiry will investigate all violations of international human rights law by Syrian Authorities and help the international community address the serious human rights abuses in Syria and ensure that those responsible are held to account.
There are credible reports that government forces in Syria have committed numerous gross human rights violations, including torture and summary executions in their crackdown against opposition members. The most recent attack by Syrian security forces on protesters in Homs is as deplorable as it is sadly representative of the Asad regime’s utter disregard for the Syrian people.
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the slaughter, arrest, and torture of peaceful protesters taking place in Syria. We continue to urge nations around the world to stand with the Syrian people in their demands for a government that represents the needs and will of its people and protects their universal rights. For the sake of the Syrian people, it is time for Asad to step aside and leave this transition to the Syrians themselves.
Today, the United States imposed sanctions on Tidewater Middle East Company, an operator of Iranian ports owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that has links to Iranian proliferation activities. We also imposed sanctions against Iran Air, which was designated for providing material support and services to the IRGC and Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), and also has facilitated proliferation-related activities. Today’s sanctions also exposed an Iranian individual and entity for their ties to a company that provided support and weapons to Hizballah on behalf of the IRGC.
The IRGC’s illicit activities and its increasing displacement of the legitimate Iranian private sector in major strategic industries, including in the commercial and energy sectors, are deeply troubling. The IRGC also serves as the domestic “enforcer” for the Iranian regime, continues to play an important proliferation role by orchestrating the import and export of prohibited items to and from Iran, is involved in support of terrorism throughout the region, and is responsible for serious human rights abuses against peaceful Iranian protestors and other opposition participants.
Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a top U.S. Government priority and we remain deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear intentions. The United States is committed to a dual-track policy of applying pressure in pursuit of constructive engagement, and a negotiated solution.
On June 9, 2011, the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States) reaffirmed their concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and their commitment to a diplomatic solution in their statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. Many other governments have also expressed serious concerns about the behavior and policies of the Iranian leadership and have urged Iran to change course and seek a path of negotiation. Yet, in the face of this unified international message, Iran has continued to violate its international obligations and disregard our attempts to start meaningful negotiations over its nuclear program.
For this reason, the United States is convinced that the international community must continue to increase and broaden the scope of pressures on Iran. We welcome steps such as the European Union’s designation of more than 100 entities and individuals last month and the improved implementation of sanctions against Iran that we are seeing around the world.
This month, the United States amplified our sanctions against Iran’s leadership through a comprehensive initiative aimed at Iran’s dangerous behavior–its continued proliferation activities, its human rights abuses, and its destabilizing activities in the region.
On June 9, we sanctioned the Iranian security forces for human rights abuses. Earlier this week, we continued our efforts against the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), which the UN Security Council 1737 Sanctions Committee noted has been involved in several violations of UN Security Council resolutions on Iran.
The steps we have taken this week seek to limit Iran’s ability to use the global financial system to pursue illicit activities. We have made important progress in isolating Iran, but we cannot waver. Our efforts must be unrelenting to sharpen the choice for Iran’s leaders to abandon their dangerous course.
The United States and our partners remain fully committed to a diplomatic solution with Iran. However, until Iran is prepared to engage seriously with us on such a solution, we will continue to increase pressure against Iranian entities of concern.
I am deeply troubled that the Syrian Government chooses to continue to use force and intimidation against the Syrian people. The United States condemns in the strongest terms the Syrian Government’s actions over the past five weeks and calls on it to immediately cease the killing, arrest, and harassment of protestors, activists, and journalists. I am particularly troubled by ongoing reports of deaths of citizens at the hands of the Syrian Government, including accounts today that at least 30 people were killed when Syrian security forces again opened fire on peaceful protestors throughout the country. On behalf of the United States, I extend our sincerest condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives.
The Syrian people, like people everywhere, have the inherent right to exercise their universal freedoms, including peaceful assembly, expression, and speech. The Syrian Government must respond to the Syrian people’s call for change. It must realize that violence and intimidation will not answer their call.
The Syrian Government’s actions are neither those of a responsible government nor a credible member of the international community. We will continue to hold to account senior Syrian officials and others responsible for the reprehensible human rights abuses against the Syrian people. We welcome the European Union’s decision to join us in these efforts with similar steps. We will also continue to work both unilaterally and with our international partners to determine the most effective next steps if the Syrian Government chooses not to abandon its current path.
Heartland Alliance receives support from the Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF) to assist survivors of torture. In January 2008, Heartland Alliance established the Trauma and Rehabilitation Training Center in Suleymaniya, Iraq for those who have experienced torture and human rights abuse. The building that houses the center was donated to Heartland Alliance by the Kurdish Regional Government’s Ministry of Health, as a symbol of the government’s commitment to assist torture survivors. The organization also obtained a second donated building to be used as a satellite clinic in the Diyala province. Through these two centers and their community outreach program, Heartland Alliance has provided short-term medical and mental health services as well as comprehensive rehabilitative assistance to more than 1,700 adult and child victims of torture and human rights abuses since the program’s inception, reflecting 151% of the program’s goal.