Senator Leahy Calls For State Dept. Investigation of Human Rights Violations By Israel and Egypt

CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., photographs photographers as they wait for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton Tuesday, July 14, 2015.

Military aid to the United States’ two largest recipients could be reevaluated should a proposed investigation into “gross violations of human rights” by Israeli and Egyptian security forces move forward.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and 10 Democrats in the House signed a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry on February 17 where they highlighted the unique American relationship with these two countries and how that relationship has “hindered the implementation of normal mechanisms for monitoring the use of such assistance.”

Leahy and the members of Congress cited the Leahy Law, which stipulates, “No assistance shall be furnished … to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

The letter also listed numerous examples of human rights violations, citing reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

“Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have reported what may be extrajudicial killings by the Israeli military and police of Fadi Alloun, Saad Al-Atrash, Hadeel Hashlamoun, and Mutaz Ewisa,” the letter reads. “There are also reports of the use of torture in the cases of Wasim Marouf and Ahmed Manasra.”

The letter was sent before a recent controversy in Israel related to extrajudicial killings. A video was released last week showing an Israeli soldier in Hebron shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground. Rights groups in Israel and the Palestinian Territories have pointed to numerous other videos, including some that depict the individuals listed in Leahy’s letter.

The lawmakers also cited the 2013 killing of hundreds of protesters in Egypt’s Rabaa Square as a massacre. The Obama administration has been very careful with their language regarding Egypt and in March 2015 decided to resume delivering previously withheld military systems, despite reports of government abuses that include, “a lack of accountability for many killings of protesters by security forces, mass detentions, military trials of civilians, hundreds of death sentences, and the forced eviction of thousands of families in the Sinai Peninsula,” according to HRW.

The application of the Leahy Law does not necessarily mean military aid to countries violating human rights must be stopped entirely. While it prohibits aid to a particular foreign military unit involved in human rights abuses, overall military funding can continue.

Still, it signifies a big shift from the rhetoric espoused by presidential candidates, many who have spoken out about their unwavering support for Israel and praised Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

“Both Israel and Egypt receive billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, and both countries’ security forces have opened fire on protesters with impunity,” Sunjeev Bery of Amnesty International USA told Politico. “This letter from key members of Congress is an important first step in the right direction.”