Last Updated:3/20/02
Statement of U.S. non-governmental organizations on human rights conditionality, September 26, 2001

September 26, 2001

Dear Member of Congress,

We write to urge you to reject any wholesale request to lift human rights restrictions on U.S. military assistance and training around the globe and to encourage you to maintain reasonable human rights guidelines in intelligence operations. In the terrible aftermath of September 11th, there is an understandable rush to address potential security threats, and we welcome sensible measures to improve public safety. Yet our nation must not rush to take steps that we will later come to regret. It is in times of crisis that our commitment to democracy, civil liberties and human rights is tested.

It is important to recall that many of the current limitations and conditions on U.S. assistance were established as prudent safeguards for U.S. policy. Most include waiver provisions in cases of national security concerns. The conditions on U.S. aid evolved in response to severe human rights crises in specific countries. These provisions establish congressional intentions that U.S. policy be consistent with the principles of democracy and human rights. They are not intended to hinder effective foreign policy, and in fact support effective policy by establishing a careful system of checks and balances. Congress should act to preserve these protections while working with the administration to evaluate the applications of conditions on a case-by-case basis, with sufficient opportunity for deliberation and congressional oversight.

One such condition is the Leahy law, which governs training and assistance to foreign military forces. The Leahy law prohibits U.S. assistance to foreign security forces known to have engaged in serious human rights violations. The United States should continue to rely upon the Leahy law as a valuable tool to influence governments to respect human rights and bring to justice military personnel who violate the rule of law. The Leahy law is a safeguard against aiding foreign security forces that violate the rights of their own citizens; its provisions to screen forces that are to receive U.S. training, in the aftermath of September 11th, are more relevant than ever. Abandoning this law, which is well known in countries with substantial U.S. military aid and severe human rights problems, like Colombia, would send precisely the wrong message: that human rights is not a priority for the United States.

Another restriction highlighted in current debate is the set of CIA guidelines regarding recruitment of assets who violate human rights. It is important to note that these guidelines permit the recruitment of any kind of informant, but require supervisors' permission when these informants are known human rights violators. This is a reasonable guideline which has never led the CIA to turn "down a field request to recruit an asset in a terrorist organization,'' according to CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. These guidelines evolved not to restrict payment for information vital to national security but rather to prevent routine, institutional relationships with abusive individuals and institutions without regard to the impact on democracy and human rights. The guidelines were issued in the aftermath of a disturbing case in which the CIA, five years after Congress placed a ban on military aid to Guatemala, maintained close institutional relationships with Guatemalan intelligence agencies involved in the murder and torture of many innocent civilians, including American citizens. While intelligence collection and analysis must obviously be improved, human rights considerations regarding intelligence relationships and covert action continue to be crucial.

In addition, there are human rights conditions or restrictions on assistance placed on a few countries with particularly extreme problems in the areas of human rights, democracy, or civilian control of the military. These conditions were not placed lightly or in an arbitrary manner, and they should not be removed or waived without careful consideration.

As lawmakers, like all of us you are struggling to make sense of the terrible events of September 11th and to adapt to a new and harsher reality. We urge you in this difficult moment to continue to exercise your responsibilities to oversee executive action, and not to lose sight of our nation's ideals of democracy, liberty, and respect for human rights in your search for a strong response.


Rev. Bob Edgar
General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ
in the USA

Alexandra Arriaga
Director of Government Relations
Amnesty International, USA

George Vickers
Executive Director
Washington Office on Latin America

Rev. John L. McCullough
Executive Director
Church World Service

Russell O. Siler
Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Heidi Boghosian
Executive Director
National Lawyers Guild

Bill Goodfellow and Robert White
Executive Director and President
Center for International Policy

John Isaacs
Council for a Liveable World
David A. Vargas
Executive Director for Latin America and the Caribbean
Global Ministries, United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

J. Daryl Byler
Director, Washington Office
Mennonite Central Committee, USA

Thomas Hart
Director of Government Relations
Episcopal Church, USA

Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory
Director, Washington Office
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Terry Collingsworth
General Counsel
International Labor Rights Fund

Tamar Gabelnick
Director, Arms Sale Monitoring Project
Federation of American Scientists

Steve Bennett
Executive Director
Witness for Peace

Martha Honey
Foreign Policy in Focus

Sanho Tree
Director, Drug Policy Project
Institute for Policy Studies

Maria Luisa Vera, R.S.M.
Institute Leadership Team Member
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

J.E. McNeil
Executive Director
Center on Conscience and War

Greg Davidson Laszakovits
Church of the Brethren, Washington Office

Graham Russell
Executive Director
Rights Action

Steve Coats
Executive Director
U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project
Leon Spencer
Executive Director
Washington Office on Africa

Miriam A. Young
Executive Director
Asia Pacific Center for Justice and Peace

Valora Washington, PhD.
Executive Director
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Corinne Whitlatch
Churches for Middle East Peace

Ted Lewis
Human Rights Director
Global Exchange

Kurt Biddle
Washington Coordinator
Indonesia Human Rights Network

Deborah Pierce
Executive Director

Fred Rosen
North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA)

Megeen White and Joseph Nangle, OFM
Franciscan Mission Service

Judy Cannon, R.S.M.
Interim Executive Director
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

David A. Moczulski, OFM
Executive Director
Franciscan Washington Office for Latin America
Sarah C. Aird
Executive Director

Neil Jeffrey
U.S. Office on Colombia

Alice Wolters and Mark Saucier
National Coordinators
Peru Peace Network

Linda Mushburn
Executive Director
Sister Parish, Inc.

Kevin B. Zeese
Executive Director
Commonsense for Drug Policy

Ricardo Vargas Meza
Accion Andina Colombia

Marilyn Moors
Guatemala Scholars Network

Jeff Winder
Program Director
SOA Watch

Rhoda and Mark Berenson
Committee for Inter-American Human Rights

Sister Michelle Balek, OSF
Region Coordinator
Franciscans International-North America

Kathy Thornton, R.S.M.
National Coordinator
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Salih Booker
Executive Director
Africa Action

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action Education Fund

Maral Kitissou, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Africa Faith and Justice Network

Karen Orenstein
Washington Coordinator
East Timor Action Network

Ronald E. Hampton
Executive Director
National Black Police Association, Inc.

Judy Carle, R.S.M.
Sisters of Mercy, Regional Community of Burlingame, C.A.

Joe Volk
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Janet Chisholm and Richard Deats
Fellowship of Reconciliation

Cristina Espinel and Barbara Gerlach
Colombia Human Rights Committee

M. Rojas Alayza
Instituto Bartolome de las Casas, Mexico

Mubarak Awad
Nonviolence International

Kimberly Theidon
Institute for Human Rights Policy and Practice

Marie Dennis
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

James Matlack
Director, Washington Office
American Friends Service Committee

Stan De Boe, OSST
Office of Justice and Peace Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Ken McEldowvrey
Executive Director
Consumer Action

Wes Callender
Voices on the Border

Margaret Swedish
Executive Director
Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico

Susan Thompson
Associate for Latin America
Columban Justice and Peace Office

Alice Zachmann
Guatemala Human Rights Commission, USA

Kathryn Ledebur
Andean Information Network

Nora Callahan
Executive Director
The November Coalition

Jean Stokan
Policy Director
SHARE Foundation

Mavis Anderson
Program Director
Center for Global Education
at Augsburg College, Minnesota

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