Established just three years ago, the Office of Security and Human Rights (SHR) is the newest office in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL). Our mission, and our guiding principle, are in our name: Security and Human Rights -- not Security or Human Rights. We stand for the proposition that better human rights practices, especially when implemented by security forces, enhance security for our partners -- and for the United States itself. We challenge the old model that places security and human rights at opposite poles.
Vetting Nations for Foreign Assistance Under Leahy Laws
We are best known for our function as the Department’s lead office for implementing the State and Defense Departments’ obligations under the Leahy laws, which prohibit U.S. security assistance to foreign security force units or individuals who have committed gross violations of human rights. To do that, we vet all units and persons proposed for assistance. And we are not a small operation – by the end of 2017, we vetted about 230,000 cases for foreign partners all over the world, including the world’s hotspots where we are assisting partners in fighting terrorists, insurgents, and transnational criminal organizations.
How do we approach our work? Simply put -- we call balls and strikes. We ensure that assistance flows in a timely fashion to rights-respecting units. When we have credible information of a gross violation of human rights, we ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars do not go to human rights abusers. We gather our information from our embassies overseas, from NGOs, from the media, and from our foreign partners.
A Hub of Expert Knowledge on Leahy Laws
An important part of our mission is helping our embassies, our interagency partners, NGOs, and the public understand the Leahy laws and how to implement them. Assistance requests, questions, and calls for help come to us around the clock from posts worldwide. Given the constant turnover in personnel at our embassies and in our interagency partners, we consider education part of our mission, and we offer a steady stream of “Leahy 101” briefs to a wide variety of audiences. Congress and the media keep a close eye on our work, and we are often called on to respond to their questions and concerns. So, if you have a question about Leahy, or need technical help, or just want to get a basic orientation about the law – we are the ones to call.
A Security Clearinghouse
We coordinate a number of other security issues for DRL -- in effect, acting as the DRL bureau’s clearinghouse. In conjunction with other DRL offices, we work with other bureaus (many of them!) to compile the annual Child Soldiers Prevention Act listings and recommendations for or against waivers. We provide human rights input into licensing decisions on munitions and defense technology. And we work to ensure that human rights training for our foreign security partners is operational, including instruction on how to put international best practices into effect in the field.
A Mission Bolstered by a Growing Body of Experience and Research
Our efforts are bolstered by a growing body of experience and research showing that rights-respecting, accountable security forces are more operationally effective against violent extremists, insurgents, and transnational criminal organizations. And U.S. backing for such forces, and refusal to back human rights violators, strengthens foreign reformers, enhances the legitimacy of U.S. security policies, and ultimately, enhances U.S. security.
So remember: it’s Security and Human Rights.
About the Author: Charles Blaha serves as a Director in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor's Office of Security and Human Rights.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.