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Applying the Leahy Law to U.S. military and police aid

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Center for International Policy
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INTRODUCTION

Latin American and Caribbean human rights promoters and journalists may be unaware of a powerful tool to curb impunity among military and police that receive U.S. assistance: the “Leahy Law.” Introduced by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy in the 1990s, the Leahy Law prohibits the United States from providing assistance to any foreign military or police unit if there is credible information that such unit has committed grave human rights violations with impunity.

If the foreign country takes “effective steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice,” the U.S. government can resume assistance to that unit.

In countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras, nongovernmental organizations based in the United States and in Latin America have already used the law to stop assistance to abusive military and police units, and to encourage armed forces to improve their practices with respect to human rights.

In order to use it effectively, it is important to fully understand how the Leahy Law works. This guide provides a basic understanding of the Leahy Law, and explains how individuals and organizations working to encourage militaries and police agencies to promote and respect human rights can use it.