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House Passes Jacobs’ Upholding Human Rights Abroad Act

Legislation will close a loophole in human rights vetting in Pentagon security cooperation programs

Last week, the House passed Congresswoman Sara Jacobs’ Upholding Human Rights Abroad Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. 


Congresswoman Jacobs introduced the bill earlier in the week, along with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). This legislation will close loopholes in Leahy Laws, conduct needed oversight of Pentagon security cooperation programs, and ensure that the United States does not provide security assistance to human rights violators under two key Department of Defense funding authorities. The Jacobs-Van Hollen Upholding Human Rights Abroad Act will also increase transparency and expand reporting requirements to bolster oversight.


Upon passage, Congresswoman Jacobs released the following statement:


“Upholding our values in our security assistance is not just a moral obligation, but a national security imperative. Closing these critical loopholes in Leahy Laws will ensure our military aid does not support those who commit human rights abuses and fuel the conflict and violence we’re hoping to address in the first place. I am grateful for the bill’s passage in the House and look forward to working with Senators Van Hollen, Leahy, and Durbin on ultimately passing it into law.”


Upholding Human Rights Abroad Bill Text, Section by Section.   


U.S. law permits the Secretary of Defense to expend up to $100 million per year to provide support to partners who facilitate or support authorized U.S. special operations forces to combat terrorism. According to open-source reporting, this authority has been used to conduct operations in Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Tunisia, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – all of which have had serious concerns raised in the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for years.


The Upholding Human Rights Abroad Act will close this loophole in the Leahy Law so that we are not providing funding or support to recipients that have committed human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.


The Upholding Human Rights Abroad Act will:

  • Require the Department of Defense to create processes and report on steps taken to ensure recipients of both Section 127e and Section 1202 programs have not committed gross violations of human rights
  • Require the Department of Defense to conduct Leahy human rights vetting for both Section 127e and Section 1202 potential recipients
  • Expand reporting requirements to include an assessment of how Section 127e and Section 1202 programs advance U.S. national security priorities and aligns with other U.S. Government efforts in the countries of recipients
  • Consistent with Section 1202, clarify that Section 127e does not authorize the introduction of US armed forces into hostilities, U.S. Special Operations that are not otherwise authorized, or activities that are inconsistent with the laws of armed conflict