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Menendez, Democratic Colleagues Introduce New Legislation Barring U.S. Arms Sales to Human Rights Violators

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 29, 2021 CONTACT Juan Pachon Menendez, Democratic Colleagues Introduce New Legislation Barring U.S. Arms Sales to Human Rights Violators SAFEGUARD Act prohibits arms sales to countries committing genocide or war crimes; increases Congressional oversight of provision of arms, defense services to ensure protection of human rights

WASHINGTONSenator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined today by Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in introducing the Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Exports Act of 2021. As foreign governments intentionally or inadvertently use U.S.-sold arms and defense services to perpetrate human rights abuses against innocent civilians, the SAFEGUARD Act would bolster Congress’ role in the review of proposed arms sales and exports to prevent the United States from contributing to or facilitating future human rights abuses. The legislation lays out strategic reforms to the Arms Export Control Act to guarantee that protection and promotion of human rights is a mandatory primary consideration of the export of deadly weapons and defense services to foreign countries.

“Safeguarding and prioritizing basic human rights in the sale or transfer of lethal arms must be a fundamental responsibility for any country that truly values these rights, especially the basic right of protecting the life, person and livelihood of the innocent,” said Chairman Menendez. “The United States has for too long devoted inadequate care to this responsibility in its arms sales process. With the sale of arms comes inescapable responsibility on how they are used, and when misused, undermines U.S. reputation and security. The U.S. should support partners and friendly countries in their legitimate defense needs, and we must be able to do so without the blood of the innocent on our hands. The SAFEGUARD Act is a common-sense reform to make certain no U.S. President rewards human rights abusers or war criminals with America’s deadliest weapons.”

“When countries partner with the United States, they must know that we will always uphold our morals and values, especially with regard to human rights,” Senator Kaine said. “I’m pleased to cosponsor this bill to ensure that any arms sales the United States engages in will be rigorously vetted against our human rights standards and to increase congressional oversight over this process.”

“This is good government legislation that should have been enacted long ago,” said Senator Leahy. “The U.S. sells large amounts of weapons to foreign governments, including some whose security forces have a history of violating human rights with impunity. We have a responsibility to the American people, and to the people of those countries, to ensure that we are not complicit or compounding the problem by selling weapons that are misused or transferred to bad actors.” 

“Safeguarding fundamental human rights should be a centerpiece of every foreign policy decision we make,” said Senator Coons. “I am pleased to cosponsor this important legislation which will require that those seeking to purchase U.S. weapons adhere to a higher standard for the protection of these basic rights. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this bill and ensure American foreign policy reflects our values.”

Find a copy of the SAFEGUARD Act HERE. The SAFEGUARD Act:


  1. Elevates the protection of human rights in the control and export of arms as an official policy of the United States and places in statute that the export of such arms will not present a significant risk of violating human rights;
  2. Prohibits arms sales to countries committing war crimes, genocide, or violations of international humanitarian law (protection of civilians during combat);
  3. Strengthens prohibitions on misuse of U.S. arms sales for human rights abuses; requires 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.
  4. Re-establishes and strengthens requirement for the State Department considers a country’s entire human rights record and behavior; ensures that State’s human rights bureau is involved in arms sales decisions; and requires an annual report by the Inspector General on implementation of this provision.
  5. Increases 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;
  6. Applies Leahy vetting to the sale of arms and defense services;
  7. Strengthens end-use monitoring of arms sales for human rights abuses; and
  8. Requires certain highly-lethal weapons systems to be sold only through the Foreign Military Sales system, and thereby allowing conditions and requirements to be placed on such sales by the Department of State.