US Training on Global Human Rights
. . . and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4 NRSV)
Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:19 NRSV)
Each year, more than 100,000 foreign soldiers and police officers from over 150 countries receive training from the US government. This training is undertaken with minimal oversight and little assessment of the effects of such instruction on human rights around the world.1
The US Army School of the Americas (SOA) provided such training to soldiers from Latin America from 1946 to 2000. Several graduates from the SOA returned to their home countries and committed human rights abuses, including the murders of priests, women, and children. In 1996, it was discovered that training manuals at the SOA advocated such practices as torture, extortion, kidnapping, and execution. In response to these egregious acts, The United Methodist Church called for the closing of the SOA in 2000. In 2001, under pressure from advocacy groups, the name of the institution was changed to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) and the curriculum was reformed to include more human rights and democracy training. However, no US army or government officials have been held accountable for the development and use of training manuals advocating practices in clear violation of domestic and international laws.2
WHINSEC-SOA is symbolic of a much larger issue. It is one of many institutions providing foreign military training in the US, most of which provide substantially less human rights instruction than WHINSEC-SOA.
Tens of thousands of students come to the US to study at approximately 275 US military institutions. Tens of thousands more receive training from US forces in their home countries. Time and again, the US has provided training to forces directly responsible for human rights abuses, in countries such as Indonesia, East Timor, Rwanda, and Colombia.3 Such training has helped to prop up large militaries that are often used to suppress government opposition groups and thwart legitimate democratic activity-all in the name of counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism. US military training of Mujahideen forces in Afghanistan (which included Taliban forces) is but one example of how the troops we train today may become the forces (or train the forces) we face tomorrow. Such cases demonstrate how important it is that any US military training plans consider the political realities and level of existing human rights protections in the host country.4
Being a good neighbor does not mean providing bombs and sniper training to economically depressed countries in Latin America. Our neighbors need humanitarian aid, civil society support, and judicial reforms. When we favor military institutions over democratic movements we are not working toward sustainable communities in Latin America or elsewhere. We must consider how to best use limited natural, economic, and human resources to create real security and establish acceptable living conditions for all people.
Based on our historic advocacy for human rights and against the militarization of societies, we urge all United Methodists in the US to work actively to improve the standards for US training of foreign military and police personnel and to educate and inform others about the human rights implications of such training. In the spirit of peaceful cooperation with our neighbors and mutual betterment of all, we urge the US government to focus such foreign training efforts primarily on peacekeeping, disaster assistance, and domestic policing.
We call upon the General Board of Church and Society to continue to monitor this issue, including any proposed legislation to close WHINSEC-SOA.
United Methodists are encouraged to contact the President, their senators and representatives to support legislation in support of the following objectives:5
- Require significant, standardized training in human rights, ethical decision making, humanitarian law, military justice, and civil-military relations (the military's role in a democratic society) for all US education provided to foreign forces, whether on US soil or elsewhere.
- Improve and standardize the process for screening all foreign students to ensure that known human rights abusers do not receive training.
- Improve the accountability and oversight of training programs, including better follow-up tracking of trainees (to the extent practicable) and comprehensive assessment of programs to evaluate the level of benefit to the US government and the public.
- Establish a congressional task force to assess the type of education appropriate for the US to provide to foreign military and police personnel (including the type and amount of training on human rights, humanitarian law, and democratic principles) and to evaluate the effects of foreign military and police training in the areas of human rights and adherence to democratic principles and the rule of law.
- Establish an independent commission to identify those responsible for creating and approving the training manuals used at the SOA that advocated tactics in clear violation of US and international law.
Our hope, our belief, our desire is to work for peace in the world. While we recognize the importance of military and police institutions to maintain security, we are concerned that, without adequate standards and oversight, such training can lead to severe human rights abuses. It is imperative that US training of foreign military and police personnel operates with the highest degree of integrity and works to maintain the dignity and rights of civilians.
1. Amnesty International USA, Unmatched Power, Unmet Principles: The Human Rights Dimensions of US Training of Foreign Military and Police Forces, 2002, p. vii-xi, 1-5.
2. Ibid, p. vii-viii, 5-6, 43-49.
3. Ibid, p. ix-x, 4-6, 9, 51-62.
4. Ibid, p. 1-2.
5. Amnesty International USA, Unmatched Power, Unmet Principles: The Human Rights Dimensions of US Training of Foreign Military and Police Forces, 2002, p. x-xi, 63-69, and H.R. 1217, "Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2005" (Introduced in House), 109th Congress.
See Social Principles, ¶ 165B and D.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.