Spanberger Introduces Bicameral Legislation Barring U.S. Arms Sales to Human Rights Violators

The SAFEGUARD Act Would Prohibit Arms Sales to Countries Committing Genocide or War Crimes; Increase Congressional Oversight of Provision of Arms, Defense Services to Protect Human Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger — a Member of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and former CIA case officer — is leading an effort to prevent American weapons and military equipment from contributing to or facilitating future human rights abuses.

As foreign governments intentionally or inadvertently use American-sold weapons and military equipment to perpetrate human rights abuses against innocent civilians, the Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Exports (SAFEGUARD) Act would strengthen Congress’ role in the review of proposed arms sales and exports to ensure that the United States is not contributing to these human rights violations. The legislation also lays out strategic reforms to the Arms Export Control Act to guarantee that the protection and promotion of human rights is a mandatory consideration when exporting deadly weapons and defense services to foreign countries.

“Since arriving in Congress, I have been focused on asserting Congress’ role in the review of U.S. arms sales and exports. And as Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I firmly believe that we must prevent the United States from prolonging or contributing to future human rights abuses — including through weapons transfers,” said Spanberger. “The SAFEGUARD Act is a long overdue step towards accomplishing these goals. Our bill would make sure fundamental questions of national security and human rights are addressed during the official process of reviewing, exporting, and monitoring weapons and military equipment transfers. Additionally, our bicameral legislation would rightly prohibit arms sales to countries violating international humanitarian law — helping to reestablish strong U.S. global leadership in the fight against genocide, ethnic cleansing, extrajudicial killings, and other abuses that we see all too often around the world. In making these reforms, our legislation would protect not only our values, but also our national security interests.”

Spanberger is co-leading the effort in the U.S. House with U.S. Representatives Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY-05) — Chair of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee — and Susan Wild (D-PA-07).

“As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee it is my obligation to ensure the foreign policy the United States pursues remains true to both our national interests and our democratic values. The SAFEGUARD Act requires the United States to evaluate the human rights records of foreign government buyers of U.S. arms to prevent sales to states shown to be responsible for violating international humanitarian law or internationally recognized human rights. I have and will continue to support U.S. allies and partners pursuing their security needs and our shared strategic interests, however doing so must not come at the cost of violating basic human rights. This, at its core, is what separates us from our undemocratic adversaries and distinguishes America as a leader among nations,” said Meeks.

“U.S. leadership on human rights can’t just be rhetoric, which is why I am so proud to join my colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee to introduce this legislation to promote accountability and institutional checks on arms sold by the U.S,” said Wild. “We should not provide arms used to violate human rights, and I am hopeful this bill is but one of several meaningful steps we can take to apply this principle as a cornerstone of our nation’s foreign policy.”

The U.S. Senate version of the SAFEGUARD Act is led by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) — Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Specifically, Spanberger’s SAFEGUARD Act would:

  • Elevate the protection of human rights in the control and export of arms as an official policy of the United States and place a requirement in statute that the export of such arms will not present a significant risk of violating human rights,
  • Prohibit arms sales to countries committing war crimes, genocide, or violations of international humanitarian law (protection of civilians during combat),
  • Strengthen prohibitions on misuse of U.S. arms sales for human rights abuses; require agreements to that effect on all exports and transfers, including the right of return of any such arms; and prohibits transfer of arms to armed units not subjected to Leahy vetting,
  • Re-establish and strengthen requirement for the U.S. State Department considers a country’s entire human rights record and behavior; ensure that State’s human rights bureau is involved in arms sales decisions; and require an annual report by the Inspector General on implementation of this provision,
  • Increase congressional oversight over any sale or provision of arms and defense services to any country subjected to a coup or violated specific human rights — including rape, ethnic cleansing, use of child soldiers, wrongful detention, and extrajudicial killings — by requiring all such sales and services to be reviewed by Congress,
  • Apply Leahy vetting to the sale of arms and defense services,
  • Strengthen end-use monitoring of arms sales for human rights abuses, and
  • Require certain highly-lethal weapons systems to be sold only through the Foreign Military Sales system, and thereby allow conditions and requirements to be placed on such sales by the U.S. State Department.

Click here to read the full bill text.


The SAFEGUARD Act builds on Spanberger’s efforts to reassert the role of Congress in reviewing the sale of weapons and military equipment to foreign countries.

In July 2019, a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House voted to pass a joint resolution Spanberger led to block the sale of certain offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia in hostilities that were not authorized by Congress. Under the Trump Administration’s emergency arms sale to Saudi Arabia, thousands of additional precision-guided munitions transferred to Saudi coalition forces without congressional review.


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