Arms Control, Government Relations

Letter from 20 NGOs Expresses Support for the SAFEGUARD Act

February 23, 2024 | by Amnesty International USA |USA

Amnesty International USA and 19 NGOs wrote Chairman Cardin, Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Risch, and Ranking Member Meeks to express their support for the SAFEGUARD Act, S.1025 in the Senate and H.R.1801 in the House, and urge members of Congress to co-sponsor the bill.

February 23, 2024

Honorable Benjamin Cardin, Chair
Honorable James Risch, Ranking Republican
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
423 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Honorable Michael McCaul, Chair
Honorable Gregory Meeks, Ranking Democrat
House Foreign Affairs Committee
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Cardin, Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Risch, and Ranking Member Meeks,

We, the undersigned organizations, write to express our support for the SAFEGUARD Act, S.1025 in the Senate and H.R.1801 in the House, and urge members of Congress to co-sponsor the bill. The SAFEGUARD Act complements and updates longstanding, bipartisan laws that regulate arms transfers and uphold critical human rights standards.

Longstanding laws such as the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act have been crucial in protecting congressional oversight and establishing regulations to prohibit U.S. arms transfers from going toward the perpetuation of human rights abuses around the world. These laws, however, have proven to have significant gaps that permit human rights-abusing actors to continue to access U.S.-made weapons to perpetuate violations of international law, furthering repression, violence and instability. The SAFEGUARD Act addresses these gaps in existing law by strengthening mechanisms for accountability when these weapons facilitate human rights violations, and enhancing the important role Congress plays in oversight on arms sales that pose high risks to human rights.

Specifically, the SAFEGUARD Act would:

  • Strengthen the Leahy Laws: The act would require human rights vetting of foreign military and police units to receive U.S. arms sales, in addition to military aid, as the law was originally intended.
  • Ban arms sales to war criminals and genocidaires: The bill would prohibit weapons exports to countries where a determination has been made the government has carried out war crimes or genocide.
  • Apply end-use monitoring to human rights abuses: The SAFEGUARD Act would require the U.S. government to track when U.S. weapons are used to commit war crimes and other internationally recognized human rights abuses and promote accountability for violations.
  • Enhance congressional oversight: The bill would require the executive branch to notify Congress of every arms sale – regardless of its value – to countries where a military coup has taken place or where security forces are known to have committed serious human rights abuses.
  • Codify the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy: The SAFEGUARD Act would further enshrine international human rights and humanitarian law considerations in all arms transfer decisions and require periodic reporting on implementation.

The U.S. State Department, in its most recent annual Country Reports on Human Rights practices, stated that 2022 included record violations and abuses that were appalling in their scale and severity. Organizations, including signatories to this letter, have documented extraordinary lethality in conflicts and violence around the world in 2023. The U.S. Congress has historically played a vital role in requiring that recipients of U.S. security assistance uphold human rights as a threshold to continue to enjoy this support, but the tools Congress currently has at its disposal are insufficient to effectively fulfill this role. The protection of human rights is fundamental to establishing peace and security worldwide, key aims of U.S. national security and foreign policy. To ensure that U.S. security assistance accomplishes these aims, Congress must act and pass the SAFEGUARD Act.

Amnesty International USA
Center for Civilians in Conflict
Center for International Policy
Foreign Policy for America
Middle East Democracy Center
Oxfam America
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA)
Arms Control Association
Church of the Brethren, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy
Common Defense
Conflict Awareness Project
Demand Progress Action
Friends Committee on National Legislation
J Street
Peace Action
Peace Movement Aotearoa
The United Methodist Church — General Board of Church and Society
Win Without War
Women for Weapons Trade Transparency