NGOs Send Letter Members of Congress on “Coup Clause”

On 28 July 2014, a coalition of NGOs sent a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX), and Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY)  regarding proposed changes to Section 7008 of the annual State Department, Foreign Operations, and other programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill, which addresses the suspension of U.S. aid in the event of a coup d’état against a democratically elected government.

Please continue reading for the full text of the letter. 

Dear Senators and Congresswomen:

We are writing with regard to changes proposed to Section 7008 of the annual State Department, Foreign Operations, and other Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill.  This longstanding provision implements a bedrock principle of American values and U.S. foreign assistance: the suspension of U.S. aid in the event of a coup d’état against a democratically elected government. We write to support one of the proposed changes, which would clarify and strengthen the law’s implementation. We oppose the other as it would undermine that clarity and the law’s effectiveness.

The FY15 House of Representatives SFOPS bill includes two new changes to Section 7008. The first requires the Secretary of State to determine and report to Congress whether the law applies within 30 days of the deposition of an elected head of government through force or other undemocratic means.  We support this provision, because as seen in the recent case of Egypt, without it the intent of the law can be thwarted. The administration’s refusal to report its determination to Congress following the removal from power of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last July allowed it to avoid a clear suspension of U.S. aid as required by the law. This sent mixed signals both to Egypt and to other governments in the region regarding the resolve of the United States to support democratic transitions and protections for universal human rights, an ambiguity which continues to plague U.S. policy and contributes to a lack of progress in the region.

We are alarmed, however, by the second change to the law, requested by the State Department, which would allow the administration to resume aid if the Secretary of State determines that “provision of assistance is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”  This change would erode the role of Congress in upholding American values and principles in U.S. foreign aid.  And as we have seen from other laws containing national security waivers and certifications, the exceptions tend to swallow the rule as the Executive Branch routinely exercises such provisions in a manner that prioritizes short term expediency over long term interests and effectively renders U.S. law meaningless.

Section 7008 currently requires a suspension of aid until a democratically elected government has taken office. It has been applied numerous times in recent years, including in Fiji, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, and Thailand, providing an incentive for power to be returned swiftly to a democratically elected government.  Congress should not abandon that leverage nor the clear signal in support of democratic principles that the law sends to both friends and foes of democracy everywhere.

Congress should strengthen Section 7008 by requiring a determination to be made and reported within 30 days.  But it should not provide a national security loophole that would allow the administration to resume assistance before a democratically elected government has taken office.  Far from giving the State Department more flexibility, doing so would eviscerate one of the most important existing pieces of legislation in support of democratic principles and undermine the values for which the United States should be seen to stand across the globe.

Thank you for your consideration of our request,

Africa Faith & Justice Network

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

Center for Faith and Human Rights

Center for International Policy

Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America

Freedom House

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Global Rights: Partners for Justice

Human Rights First

Human Rights Watch

Latin America Working Group

National Security Network

Open Society Policy Center

Physicians for Human Rights

Project on Middle East Democracy

Reporters Without Borders

Washington Office on Latin America