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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


The United States Supports Social Responsibility and Human Rights Training for Colombian Businessmen

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported the launching of the first Professional Certificate Program on “Social Responsibility and Human Rights in Business.” The event was held at the UN Information Center in Bogotá on June 24, 2010.

This joint event was organized by the Corporación Red Local del Pacto Global en Colombia (Local Corporate Network of Global Pact in Colombia), the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).

USAID director for Colombia Ken Yamashita; Human Rights Attaché at the German Embassy Matthias Braun, UN Representative in Colombia Aldo Lalle-Demoz and UNHCR representative Terry Morel, among others attended the event.

The project’s main objective is to endorse educational agreements that may provide training to businessmen in Cundinamarca, Santander, Norte de Santander, Caldas, Valle, Risaralda, Atlántico and Cesar. It seeks to create awareness on the importance to prevent the negative effects of business operations related to human rights, forced displacement and corruption that may hold a negative effect on the rights of nearby communities, its workers or the environment.

The Professional Certificate Program includes virtual and real-time classes. The syllabus includes concept documents, analysis of business cases, risk analysis and the creation of a human rights business integration plan.

USAID’s Human Rights program seeks to strengthen human rights prevention and the response to violations. It helps to protect human rights defenders and activists, as well as other vulnerable groups or individuals. It also promotes public policies, strengthens NGOs and supports victims so they may achieve their right to truth, justice and reparation.

Bogotá, C.C., June 25, 2010


Institute for War and Peace Reporting -Philippines

In the Philippines, DRL and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) worked to strengthen media reporting on human rights—the hallmark of a democratic society. Through support from the Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF), and in partnership with three local groups, IWPR worked alongside print and broadcast journalists and editors to root better human rights understanding and protection within the media and out into society at large.

IWPR’s Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project (www.rightsreporting.net) organized 29 training sessions to establish a network of dedicated human rights reporters throughout the country: It encouraged journalists to be better monitors and guardians of society by being more aware of people’s rights and responsibilities. The project trained 520 journalists on human rights concepts, conventions and laws. It also showed them how to investigate extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, alongside ways of reporting on “justice” as opposed to simply reporting on “crime”. Journalists were also shown and encouraged to study and report on the causes and consequences of poverty in engaging and relevant ways. Importantly, participants were continually encouraged to analyze and reframe their own reporting by giving less space to the rich, famous or powerful and more thought to those people and groups who seldom have their views and interests ever seriously considered.

As part of its “training by doing” approach, IWPR published 142 investigations, reports, videos and blogs on pressing human rights issues including people trafficking and the continuing climate of impunity around enforced disappearances and summary killings. Stories produced and posted on the website were subsequently republished 175 times by local, national and international media and associated websites. Reports and findings were also cited by the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and the New York Times. In June 2009, the project and its website were shortlisted alongside the BBC and the British Red Cross as the Best New Media in the One World Media Awards, a testament to the impact of IWPR’s work in the Philippines.

IWPR and its partners worked with competing groups to try and depoliticize human rights and understand that impunity will only be seriously tackled from a collective approach that does not try and promote the interests of one over the other. They did so by using media appearances, platforms and a series of 15 public events across the country to promote that state and non-state groups share equal responsibility. In addition to linking with the Council for Islam and Democracy and the Asian Congress for Media and Communication, IWPR helped seed and develop the idea of a human rights elective course for journalism students at the University of the Philippines in Manila. They also worked with dozens of civil society groups as well as the Commission on Human Rights in Manila, Mindanao and elsewhere. IWPR reached out to and received positive feedback from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Toward the end of the project, IWPR drew together former members of the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panels and sat them down with the media and a public audience to discuss how local journalism could help promote a sustainable and fair peace in Mindanao.

Though the project has formally concluded, 10 journalists were selected and trained as human rights trainers and the website remains accessible and occasionally updated. 1,000 copies of a 105-page field guidebook on all aspects of human rights reporting were given to journalists, newsrooms and university campuses, and the book remains freely available online. Following its publication in May 2009, project director Alan Davis was contacted by the International Committee of the Red Cross wishing to use it as a basis of its own manual for local journalists there.

IWPR’s project partners were the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, the Center for Community Journalism and Development, and the Mindanao News and Information Cooperative Center.


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