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Press release from Office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (-VT)

News Backgrounder – On Erroneous Assertions About The Leahy Law And The Search For The Missing Nigerian Schoolgirls

Date: May 28, 2014

Following is a response from the State Department to erroneous assertions that the longtime human rights tool commonly known as the “Leahy Law” in some way could hinder U.S. partnership efforts with the Nigerian Government to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls from Boko Haram.]

Leahy and the Kidnapping Crisis:

The Leahy laws have not prevented the U.S. from supporting Nigerian efforts to respond to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of school girls. The U.S. is providing Nigeria with ISR specifically related to the kidnapping crisis, and the interagency U.S. team now in Nigeria is working with Nigerian counterparts on medical, intelligence, counter-terrorism, and communications concerns. This team is working with Nigeria, for instance, to set up a joint intelligence cell, a joint law enforcement cell, and a strategic communications cell.

Embassy Abuja’s Military Information Support Team (MIST) is developing examples of the types of influencing programs that could be employed in northern Nigeria with increased cooperation from Nigerian counterparts, and the MIST and the State Department Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) are exploring ways of using the Rewards for Justice program to help counter Boko Haram’s efforts.

According to AFRICOM assessments, the Nigerian military units best position to conduct hostage rescue operations are the Special Boat Service (SBS) and 101st, but both units require significant additional training. Both the SBS and the 101st are trainable under the Leahy Laws. The U.S. is also supporting another specialized unit, the newly-created 143rd Ranger Battalion, which has also cleared Leahy vetting.

Leahy and Nigeria’s Response to Boko Haram:

The main impediment to U.S. efforts to support Nigeria’s broader response to Boko Haram is not the Leahy Laws, but gross violations of human rights perpetrated by Nigerian forces, the Nigerian government’s resistance to adopting a more comprehensive approach to Boko Haram, and the continued lack of political will within the Nigerian government to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable. The U.S has not granted Nigeria’s long-standing request for broad-based ISR not because of Leahy but due to concerns about Nigeria’s human rights track record and ability to use this information appropriately.

Even with these challenges, however, the U.S. continues to provide substantial amounts of security assistance to the Nigerian government. The U.S. supported the creation of an intelligence fusion cell without triggering Leahy ineligibilities. In addition to being able to train the SBS, 101st and 143rd, we also provide law enforcement assistance, including by training Nigerian law enforcement officials on CT investigations, border security, counter IED and post-blast investigations, and crisis management. All of this assistance is part of a coordinated effort to help strengthen Nigeria’s ability to respond responsibly and effectively to their security challenges in a way that ensures civilians are protected and human rights are respected.

In CY2013, the U.S. vetted and approved 1,108 Nigerian military and law enforcement units or individuals for training, including in counterterrorism and military assistance. There are currently 187 Nigerian military units and 173 Nigerian police units that have been Leahy vetted and approved, and are cleared to receive U.S. assistance and training.

Using Leahy as Tool for Change in Nigeria:

The Leahy Laws are central to our efforts to convince Nigeria to alter it counter-productive approach to Boko Haram. President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and many other senior State and DoD officials have urged Nigeria to improve its human rights record, investigate abuse allegations, and eliminate abusive practices. We have seen some progress in this regard, with Nigerian leaders pledging to embed human rights advisors within combat units in the north (although no advisors have actually been embedded), announcing a new approach to Boko Haram, and allowing greater NGO access to prison facilities where abuses are occurring. The Leahy Laws also directs the U.S. to assist foreign governments, to the maximum extent practicable, in taking effective steps to bring responsible members of the security forces to justice.

The U.S. has an interagency approved Leahy “corrective action” plan for Nigeria, which specifies the steps Nigeria must take to address Leahy concerns, and the ways in which the U.S. is prepared to help Nigeria achieve this outcome. The plan notes the need for Nigeria to (1) investigate abuse allegations and prosecutor perpetrators; and (2) provide greater sub-unit information so that the U.S. can better differentiate tarnished units from clean ones. The plan also identifies several ways in which the U.S. can help Nigeria reach the “effective steps” threshold. This includes providing training for Nigerian human rights advisors embedded within Nigerian forces, working with Nigeria to draft a more comprehensive counterterrorism and counter-insurgency plan, providing training on detainee management, and increasing the Nigerian Human Rights Commission’s ability to coordinate with the Nigerian military, investigate abuse allegations, and train Nigerian forces.

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693

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