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Foreign Affairs Chairman Urges White House to Increase Aid to Combat Boko Haram (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Despite ongoing concerns about the Nigerian military's shaky record on human rights, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce said Wednesday the U.S. needs to step up aid to the central African country's armed forces — even if it means waiving the "Leahy Law," a 1998 act designed to prevent American assistance being given to human rights abusers. The California Republican said President Barack Obama has the power to waive the Leahy Law, an amendment to the  Foreign Assistance Act , in "extraordinary circumstances."

"U.S. forces are well positioned to advise and assist," Royce said Wednesday. "If some U.S. laws would hinder such assistance, the administration should use its waiver authority under these extraordinary circumstances."  

Sarah Sewall, State Department under secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, said she did not know if the United States was considering a waiver to the law.  

"Some 50 percent of the Nigerian military at this point in time are not eligible for that form of cooperation with the United States because of the Leahy Law," Sewall said. "And so I think it's just very important as we look at the Leahy Law and as we remember that the fight in Nigeria is fundamentally about human rights and freedoms, we would wish to honor the Leahy Law's commitment to human rights in that context."  

Royce's position follows calls this month from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to send U.S. special forces into Nigeria  and a letter signed by every female senator pressuring the administration to place international sanctions on the terrorist group.