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Senate Appropriations Bill Rejects Trump’s Efforts to Downsize State Department and USAID

Last week, the Senate Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), approved a State & Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2018. Most importantly, by a vote of 31-0, the bill adds back nearly $11 billion to the Trump administration’s whittled down budget submission. The accompanying report from the Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), blasted the Trump administration for its foreign policy “doctrine of retreat.” The subcommittee’s report states:

The lessons learned since September 11, 2001, include the reality that defense alone does not provide for American strength and resolve abroad. Battlefield technology and firepower cannot replace diplomacy and development. The administration’s apparent doctrine of retreat, which also includes distancing the United States from collective and multilateral dispute resolution frameworks, serves only to weaken America’s standing in the world.

The report also criticized the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to diplomatic and development posts and security, international HIV/AIDS programs, food aid, migration/refugee assistance, and other well-established initiatives.  While it is unclear what kind of funding bill Congress will eventually pass for fiscal year 2018, it is significant that this draft appropriations bill received a unanimous bipartisan vote in the full committee.

There are dozens of line items that will be of relevance to Just Security readers, but some funding proposals of note (in no particular order): 

  • In terms of major new initiatives, funds would be provided for the first time for atrocities prevention programs (not less than $5 million) and in particular to implement recommendations of the Atrocities Prevention Board. The Under-Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights would be charged with providing strategic policy direction for, and policy oversight of, these funds. This is a major development given that the atrocities prevention mandate has heretofore been an unfunded one. (See our prior coverage here).
  • The bill would also codify immigration restrictions (see Presidential Proclamation 8697) on human rights abusers and individuals associated with corruption. The legislation lists some exceptions, including in relation to the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, which has been an issue around meetings at the General Assembly, particularly when heads of state who have been indicted for genocide by the ICC want a visa, such as President Al Bashir of Sudan

Officials of foreign governments and their immediate family members about whom the Secretary of State has credible information have been involved in significant corruption, including corruption related to the extraction of natural resources, or a gross violation of human rights shall be ineligible for entry into the United States.  … Individuals shall not be ineligible if entry into the United States would further important United States law enforcement objectives or is necessary to permit the United States to fulfill its obligations under the United Nations Headquarters Agreement. …

Cambodian officials “who undermine democracy and human rights in Cambodia” and Turkish officials who are “knowingly responsible for the wrongful or prolonged detention of” US citizens are specifically identified for exclusion.

  • The legislation continues restrictions on funding to participate in or support the U.N. Human Rights Council until Israel is removed as a permanent agenda item.
  • Although no funds to be appropriated by this Act may be made available for a U.S. contribution to the International Criminal Court (which is consistent with prior appropriations legislation not subject to sunsetting), the U.S. can make funds available for training, witness protection measures, victim rehabilitation, and law enforcement support for international prosecutions of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes so long as these prosecutions do not target U.S. or NATO personnel.
  • Over $1 billion would be provided for peacekeeping with the important caveat that no funds may go to a new or expanded U.N. mission without a certification that the U.N. is preventing sexual exploitation by peacekeepers:

That none of the funds appropriated under this heading may be made available for obligation unless the Secretary of State certifies … on a peacekeeping mission-by-mission basis that the United Nations is implementing effective policies and procedures to prevent United Nations employees, contractor personnel, and peacekeeping troops serving in such mission from trafficking in persons, exploiting victims of trafficking, or committing acts of sexual exploitation and abuse or other violations of human rights, and to bring to justice individuals who engage in such acts while participating in such mission, including prosecution in their home countries and making information about such prosecutions publicly available on the Web site of the United Nations…

  • There are restrictions on funding cluster munitions demanding a very low “dud” rate and use only against clearly defined military targets away from civilian areas. None of the funds appropriated may be obligated or expended to implement the Arms Trade Treaty until the Senate ratifies the Treaty.
  • There are lots of line items appropriating funds to address human rights abuses around the world. For example, funds are to be made available for humanitarian assistance for vulnerable and persecuted religious minorities—including victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleaning; to support transitional justice, reconciliation, and reintegration programs, including in the Middle East and North Africa (not less than $5 million); to exhume mass graves of victims of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity; to eliminate torture within foreign security forces; to combat gender-based violence, to promote global internet freedom, and to establish genocide memorial sites.
  • There are lots of different pots of money to protect and promote international religious freedom (approximately $33 million) and to counter violent extremism. Likewise, there are line items dealing with health programs, including for HIV/AIDs, reproductive health services, and emerging health threats.
  • A number of specific countries are identified for special consideration, including Egypt, Tunisia, the Central African Republic, Lebanon, the Great Lakes region, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burma, Philippines, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Central America, Georgia and Ukraine. Certain funds to South Sudan would be withheld until the Secretary of State certified that the government is taking effective steps to end hostilities and prosecute human rights violations (including the attack on aid workers in July 2016). In Burma, funds are specifically earmarked for Rakhine and Kachin states, where oppression against Rohingya has raised genocide warnings.  Money for Sri Lanka would go to programs to assist with the “identification and resolution of cases of missing persons.” Funds can be withheld absent a certification that the government is supporting “a credible justice mechanism” and meeting other benchmarks in compliance with the Human Rights Council’s resolution on the matter (see our prior coverage here). The Central American money is focused on limiting migration and trafficking of persons northward, although there is unconditional support for the intrepid International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and a similar commission in Honduras.
  • Money would remain available for non-lethal assistance for the armed opposition in Syria as well as programs to address the needs of civilians affected by conflict in Syria, to establish local governance structures and strengthen civil society, to empower woman, to strengthen the rule of law, to document crimes and prosecute violations, to assist refugees, and to preserve cultural heritage. Along these lines, the bill would allocate money to repopulate and establish governance bodies in areas liberated from the Islamic State and at risk of, or under the control of, other terrorist organizations.  Not less than $5 million shall be made available for programs to promote accountability in Iraq and Syria for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including to develop local investigative and judicial skills and to preserve evidence.
  • The bill imposes restrictions on governments that support North Korea’s nuclear, missile, and cyber capabilities and provides funds to promote human rights in that country. Funds would also go towards maintaining a database of prisons and gulags in North Korea, following up on the work of the U.N Commission of Inquiry.
  • The legislation includes the terms of the Taylor Force Act, named after a former army officer who was killed in a terrorist attack in Israel in March 2016. This provision legislation would require the Department of State to certify that the Palestinian Authority is taking steps to end acts of violence and has ceased paying martyr benefits to the families of perpetrators (a practice that has been called “pay to slay”).  The bill contains a number of other restrictions on the expenditure of funds for assistance to Hamas, etc. and could withdraw funding (absent a waiver) if the Palestinians achieve full state status in the United Nations outside of a negotiated settlement with Israel or “initiate” an International Criminal Court (ICC) “judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians” (see our earlier coverage here).

Following up on our earlier coverage, the State Department’s scrappy and beloved Office of Global Criminal Justice (GCJ) gets a shout out in the draft bill:

First, it is to administer the $5 million allocated to promote accountability in Iraq and Syria. This will be the first time GCJ has even been given authority over program funds.

Second, GCJ is among about 20 bureaus and offices as to which no funds may be spent “to downsize, consolidate, close, move or relocate to another federal agency.”  The bill would similarly continue to fund the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), which had appeared to be in jeopardy under proposals emerging from the Trump Administration, and codify its leadership at the Assistant Secretary level.  Also preserved are the Office of Global Women’s Issues (GWI), the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, and the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights.

Third, the committee recommends that GCJ be allocated an operations budget of $3.75 from appropriated funds.

The Republican Members of the committee are:

  • Hal Rogers, Kentucky, Chairman
  • Kay Granger, Texas
  • Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida
  • Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania
  • Tom Rooney, Florida, Vice Chair
  • Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska
  • Chris Stewart, Utah

The Democratic Members are:

  • Lowey, New York, Ranking Member
  • Barbara Lee, California
  • A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland
  • Grace Meng, New York
  • David Price, North Carolina
Image: Getty/Chip Somodevilla 

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About the Author

is a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University. She was formerly the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights at Stanford Law School, a Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law, and Deputy to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the U.S. State Department. All views are her own. Follow her on Twitter (@BethVanSchaack).