Leahy Amendment Action Alert

Updated 17 November 1997


In the final days of the first session of the 105th Congress, the House and Senate approved H.R. 2159, the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs for Fiscal Year 1998. In a major victory for human rights and arms control public interest groups, the Leahy Amendment survived the conference committee and remained in the final version.

The amendment, located in Section 570 of the bill, states the following: "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: Provided, That nothing in this section shall be construed to withhold funds made available by this Act from any unit of the security forces of a foreign country not credibly alleged to be involved in gross violations of human rights: Provided further, That 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 so funds to the unit may be resumed."

The accompanying language in House Report 105-401 further elaborates the above: "The conferees are aware that there may be instances when providing information to a foreign government would compromise sources and methods, or endanger witnesses. The phrase 'to the maximum extent practicable' ensures, among other things, that sources, methods and the safety of witnesses are fully protected. By 'taking effective measures to bring responsible members of the security forces unit to justice', the conferees intend that the government carry out a credible investigation and that the individuals involved face appropriate disciplinary action or impartial prosecution in accordance with local law."

Below you will find the original Action Alert which contains useful information and background on the Leahy Amendment.


ACTION NEEDED | BACKGROUND | TALKING POINTS

The "Leahy Amendment," a restriction on U.S. counternarcotics assistance to abusive units in foreign militaries, passed as part of last year's foreign aid appropriations act. In this year's version, the Senate has approved language which expands the criteria of the "Leahy Amendment" to cover all forms of military aid to all militaries--a significant step in the protection of human rights. The House of Representatives, however, has completely stripped the "Leahy Amendment" from its version of the foreign aid appropriation bill.

The differences between these two bills will be reconciled during a House-Senate conference committee during September. It is crucial that this conference committee maintain the "Leahy Amendment" from the Senate's version of the foreign aid appropriation act in the final bill. Target the House members who will participate in the conference committee and urge them to accept the Senate's expanded "Leahy Amendment."

ACTION NEEDED

I. Schedule a meeting with your Representative at their nearest district office during August while Congress is in recess.

If your Representative is a member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee (listed below), ask him/her to support the Senate version of the Leahy Amendment in conference. This version is in the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill (Section 569, Limitation on Assistance to Security Forces).

Members of the Committee on Appropriations' Foreign Operations Subcommittee:

  • Sonny Callahan, Chair (R AL) Mobile (334) 690-2811
  • John Porter (R IL) Deerfield (847) 940-0202; Arlington Heights 392-0303;
    Waukegan 662-0101
  • Frank Wolf (R VA) Herndon (703) 709-5800; Winchester (540) 667-0990
  • Ron Packard (R CA) Vista (619) 631-1364; San Clemente (714) 496-2343
  • Joe Knollenberg (R MI) Farmington Hills (810) 851-1366;
    Livonia (313) 425-7557
  • Michael Forbes (R NY) Shirley (516) 345-9000
  • Jack Kingston (R GA) Savannah (912) 352-0101; Brunswick 265-9010;
    Statesboro 489-8797
  • Rodney Frelinghuysen (R NJ) Morristown (201) 984-0711; Dover 328-7413;
    W. Caldwell 228-9262
  • Nancy Pelosi, Ranking Member (D CA) San Francisco (415) 556-4862
  • Sidney Yates (D IL) Chicago (312) 353-4596; Evanston (847) 328-2610
  • Nita Lowey (D NY) White Plains (914) 428-1707; Rego Park (718) 897-3602
  • Thomas Foglietta (D PA) Philadelphia (215) 925-6840 or 236-5430 or 463-8702;
    Chester (610) 874-7094
  • Esteban Torres (D CA) Pico Rivera (310) 695-0702

If your Representative is not a member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, please tell him/her to ask Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Sonny Callahan (R-AL) to support the Senate version of the Leahy Amendment. You can reach the office of your Representative by calling the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

II. If you decide not to seek a meeting with your Representative but still want to get your point across, call your Representative's office (via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121).

Ask to speak with the person who handles foreign affairs for the Representative. Write down that staff person's name and title. Ask that person whether or not the Representative supports the expanded version of the Leahy Amendment. If the staff person says s/he does not know, ask him/her when you can call back to get an answer. Follow through by calling back that specific person. Let her/him know that you feel strongly that this is a key human rights issue and that you want the Representative to support the "expanded" version of the Leahy Amendment contained in the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.

Again, you want to get your Representative to support the "expanded" Leahy Amendment and to contact Chairman Callahan to express this support. Follow through is key. Call back to find out how the contact with Callahan went.

BACKGROUND

The original "Leahy Amendment" prohibited specific forms of counternarcotics aid from foreign military units if the Secretary of State determined that there was credible evidence implicating that unit in human rights violations. The aid affected by the "Leahy Amendment" was that controlled by the State Department's counternarcotics programs. It did not apply to counternarcotics assistance or military assistance from other sources. In addition, this law did not cut off all counternarcotics aid for a given country, only from those units credibly alleged to be implicated in rights violations. In fact, aid could be resumed if steps were taken to bring those responsible to justice.

The Clinton Administration decided in early 1997 to apply the criteria of the Amendment---no aid for units implicated in human rights violations---to all "sources" of counternarcotics aid. This expansion met with resistance from many Members of Congress, including Dan Burton (R-IN), Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Bob Barr (R-GA). They wanted counternarcotics aid to flow faster, particularly to Colombia. These House Republicans, convinced that the Administration's interpretation of the "Leahy Amendment" had blocked aid from Colombia, successfully lobbied their leadership to delete it from the House version of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill in July.

There is a House and Senate version of the Fiscal Year 1998 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The House version will be adopted in September when Congress returns from recess, while the Senate finished work on theirs in July. The Senate's Foreign Operations Appropriations bill contains the "expanded" version of the Leahy Amendment which extends the human rights restriction to all forms of military aid---not just some forms of counternarcotics aid as in the original version. The "expanded Leahy Amendment" follows:

Sec. 569 None of the funds made available by this Act [Foreign Operations Appropriations bill] may be provided to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence to believe 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 steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces units to justice.

TALKING POINTS ON THE "EXPANDED" LEAHY AMENDMENT

Accountability: this measure could ensure accountability of U.S. tax dollars sent abroad by requiring U.S. Embassies to know which military units are slated to receive aid, in order to evaluate the units' records. Shouldn't the public know exactly where their tax dollars are ending up?

Assurance: this measure can prevent U.S. complicity with human rights violators. If there is credible evidence a unit has been implicated in gross violations of human rights, that unit is not eligible for aid unless steps are taken to bring those responsible to justice. The U.S. has already been shown to have sent aid to human rights violators in Colombia--shouldn't this complicity with violators stop once and for all? Don't U.S. taxpayers have the right to ensure, and to know, that their tax dollars aren't supporting human rights violators in other countries?

Integrity: this measure can encourage overseas allies to be themselves respectful of the rule of law, which includes human rights as well as drug-control, and are not alienating the local population by violating their rights. Why would the local population support its government if they are getting abused?

Targeted: this measure aims to isolate those specific individuals who engage in violations by holding their unit accountable. Abusers do not hand out business cards as they carry out their atrocities and sometimes we can identify the specific unit to which those individuals belonged.

Reasonable: this measure is not as drastic as a complete cut-off of aid, which is politically difficult to accomplish. Instead, it only calls for cutting off those units the U.S. government itself believes are carrying out atrocities. Shouldn't the U.S. government cut its support for human rights violators?


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