Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces stand in formation during a victory announcement ceremony over the defeat of Daesh’s so-called physical caliphate Mar. 23, 2019, at Omar Academy, Deir ez-Zor, Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ray Boyington)

GAO: U.S. Agencies Should Improve Oversight of Human Rights Training for Foreign Security Forces

A 2017 law, the National Defense Authorization Act, required the Department of Defense (DOD) to evaluate its security cooperation programs, including its human rights training. But a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says neither DOD nor the Department of State (State) have evaluated the effectiveness of their human rights training for foreign security forces.

Promotion of human rights is regarded as a U.S. national security goal. Providing training on human rights issues and international humanitarian law to foreign security forces can further U.S. credibility and interests. For example, such training could help maintain local populations’ cooperation with U.S. security efforts by curbing potential abuses by partner country forces. Human rights abuses by U.S.–backed forces can damage the local population’s support for the United States’ strategic aims, according to guidance from the U.S. Army.

Several entities within DOD and State are involved in human rights training. DOD’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) conducts program management for DOD’s efforts to build the capacity of foreign security forces. The human rights training required is provided exclusively by the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS), a DOD entity. DOD operates a number of other educational entities that provide training to foreign security forces, and many include human rights–related material in their curriculum or through operational exercises.

The GAO review found that DOD does not systematically track human rights training and, as a result, only limited information is available on the provision of and funding for these activities. Without a process to ensure systematic and accurate tracking of human rights training data, DSCA is therefore limited in its ability to monitor its compliance with the training–related provision of the National Defense Authorization Act. State relies on DOD to track human rights training for military forces and tracks some training and funding data for police.

Agency officials told GAO that DOD and State have not assessed the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces. DOD has taken initial steps to develop monitoring and evaluation policies but the officials stated that they have not yet determined when DOD will evaluate human rights training. State officials said they do not know when the agency will begin monitoring and evaluating human rights training provided under the International Military Education and Training program, a large source of funding for such training.

But DOD officials said it is challenging to track human rights training because many courses and training activities might include human rights content. They added that as of fiscal year 2019, DSCA and DIILS are taking steps to enable DIILS to enter human rights training data directly into the case management system as an implementing agency.

It is worth noting that DOD is in the initial phase of developing its overall approach to monitoring and evaluating security assistance, of which human rights training is a small part.

GAO has recommended that the Defense Security Cooperation Agency should establish processes to ensure that information on the provision of human rights training is systematically and accurately entered into its tracking systems. GAO also wants to see a timeline for implementing DOD activities to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces. In addition, GAO called on the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, to develop a plan with a clear timeline for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces provided under the International Military Education and Training program (IMET).

DOD concurred with the recommendations but State disagreed with the recommendation to separately conduct monitoring and evaluation of human rights training for IMET participants. In response, GAO said State could meet the intent of the recommendation through evaluating the effectiveness of human rights training as part of its broader efforts to monitor and evaluate IMET.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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