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U.S. lawmakers want closer link between foreign weapons sales, human rights


A group of senior Democratic lawmakers will introduce legislation on Wednesday to more closely ensure that U.S. weapons sales to foreign customers do not end up contributing to or facilitating human rights abuses.

The Safeguard Act seeks to codify into law a new Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) policy introduced last month by Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration to increase the emphasis on human rights concerns, according to information about the legislation seen by Reuters.

The bill is led by Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representative Gregory Meeks, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. It has four other sponsors in the Senate and five in the House, all Democrats.

“Much like we should be requiring universal background checks before selling weapons of war domestically, we should be prioritizing a government’s human rights record before providing them access to our arms and defense services,” Menendez said in a statement.

The CAT policy covers review of security assistance, government-to-government weapons transfers and licensed commercial sales of U.S.-origin military equipment and services overseen by the State Department as well as the Defense Department and Department of Commerce, including firearms commonly available in the United States.

Defense companies and activists scrutinize such policies for insight into the administration’s posture as it balances commercial interests of exporters like Lockheed Martin Co (LMT.N) and Raytheon Technologies (RTX.N) against the country’s stated commitment to human rights.

Under U.S. law, the chair and ranking member of the Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs committees review major weapons transfers. They often take human rights into account and at times seek to delay or block planned sales.

For example, Menendez opposes the sale of Lockheed Martin F-16 aircraft to Turkey for reasons including its record on human rights.

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Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2022. Bonnie Cash/Pool via REUTERS

U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, answers questions during a news conference about the recent Congressional delegation trip to the Indo-Pacific region, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., August 10, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
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