Press Release

Welch Lauds Van Hollen-led Push on National Security Memorandum, Which Builds on Leahy Law

Feb 9, 2024

New Policy Will Ensure U.S. Security Assistance is Used in Accordance with International Humanitarian Law

WASHINGTON, D.C.Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) today joined Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) at a press conference on Capitol Hill on President Biden’s new National Security Memorandum (NSM) that was released publicly last night. The NSM is modeled on the Senators’ amendment to ensure U.S. security assistance is used in accordance with international law, and builds on the longstanding human rights Leahy Law, crafted by Sen. Welch’s predecessor Sen. Patrick Leahy. 

“We also know that Israel has a right to defend itself. Hamas is a legitimate target. And we also know Hamas uses civilians as shields. That does not justify the use of American military equipment in a way that gives license to the wholesale—‘over-the-top’ as President Biden said —loss of civilian life.  

“This is the first formal action…initiated by Congress and adopted by the administration as official policy to guarantee that our weapons will be used in compliance with international law and, for the moment, I think even more importantly that there’ll be no interference with the delivery of humanitarian aid that is so vital.  

“This is carrying on in the tradition of my predecessor Patrick Leahy. The Leahy Law prohibited the use of weapons where there’s credible information that a unit of a foreign security force has committed a gross violation of human rights. This principle applies to all countries that are the recipients of military aid from this country. And what President Biden is doing with this official policy as a result of the unyielding efforts of Chris Van Hollen is making a formal statement that’s going to give us an opportunity to do constant oversight,” said Sen. Welch during the event

The National Security Memorandum: 

  • Requires that prior to the transfer of U.S. security assistance, recipient countries must provide the U.S. with credible and reliable written assurances that: 
  • they will comply with international humanitarian law and other applicable international law; and 
  • that they will facilitate and not arbitrarily deny or restrict U.S. humanitarian assistance and U.S-supported international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in areas of conflict where U.S. weapons are being used 
  • Requires that the State Department and Defense Department send a report to Congress within 90 days on the use of U.S. weapons in areas of armed conflict since January 2023 and subsequent reports annually thereafter, including: 
  • an assessment of whether weapons have been used in a manner inconsistent with international humanitarian law, and other applicable international law; 
  • an assessment and analysis of any credible reports indicating that U.S.-funded weapons have been used in a manner inconsistent with established best practices for preventing civilian harm, including the Defense Department’s Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan; 
  • a description of any known occurrences of U.S. weapons not being received by the intended recipient or being misused for unintended purposes, and a description of any remedies taken; and 
  • an assessment and analysis of each foreign government’s adherence toassurances they have provided regarding U.S.-supported humanitarian efforts and compliance with the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act (Sec. 620I(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961) 
  • Creates an enforcement mechanism to ensure that, if a country violates any of these assurances, there is a process to hold such country accountable, including by potentially suspending any further transfers of defense articles or defense services. 
  • Clarifies that these requirements do not apply to air defense systems or other defense articles used for strictly defensive or non-lethal purposes. 

The NSM follows the amendment effort Senator Van Hollen led with Senators Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). 

Watch a recording of the press conference here

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