One of the largest arms sales in history was announced on 20 May to an armed force that has carried out widespread violations of human rights and the laws of war during the last few years.
During Donald Trump’s first international trip as US President, his administration announce a massive arms package with Saudi Arabia, the first country on this tour.
Bombs, missiles, warships, armoured personnel carriers, and missile defence systems are included in the agreement. The deal will also involve resurrecting a proposed sale of roughly $500M-$1Bm worth of precision-guided munitions, which the Obama administration put on hold in December 2016 for fear that they could be used to bomb civilians in Yemen. The decision to resume this sale is part of a clear trend of putting profit above people, and disregarding human rights concerns in order to boost trade.
The Yemen Conflict
For over two years, Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition in a sustained bombing campaign in Yemen. The bombing is responsible for the majority of all direct civilian deaths in the war, and has devastated an already fragile civilian infrastructure. Nearly 300 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed by air strikes and shelling. The people of Yemen face famine, with at least 17 million needing food aid in what the UN Secretary-General has described as ‘the world’s largest hunger crisis.’ Coalition bombs have destroyed ports and vital infrastructure that could bring food aid into the country and there are fears that the coalition could soon launch an onslaught against the critical lifeline port city of Hodeidah.
Into this chaos and despair the US plans to send more bombs.
The Obama administration decided to halt the munition sales last year after finding evidence of ‘systemic, endemic’ targeting failures by the Saudi-led coalition in its airstrikes. There is no sign that these failures have been resolved. In 2016 more than 6,000 civilian deaths and injuries were reported in Yemen from the use of explosive weapons, more than in any other country other than Syria. The coalition was reportedly responsible for the vast majority of these casualties. On Wednesday, Yemeni news agencies reported that three children were killed when a vehicle was bombed as it left a local market in Taiz district.
The United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have all documented widespread and serious violationsof international human rights and humanitarian law in Yemen by the coalition, including the use of indiscriminate and internationally banned cluster munitions. If the US goes ahead with this deal it will be fueling the conflict and providing the tools for further violations against the people of Yemen.
As a Signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the US is obligated to do nothing that would undermine the ‘Object and Purpose’ of the Treaty, which is to reduce human suffering through responsible arms sales.
This deal shows a cavalier disregard for the civilians of Yemen and for human rights concerns in general. The US has been one of the biggest suppliers of weapons during the Yemen war, but this massive expansion in the face of widespread violations is part of an alarming trend of arms sales with a cavalier disregard for human rights. The United States Congress can block any arms sale within 30 days of being formally notified, and there are encouraging signs of opposition to an arms-transfer policy that ignores humanitarian and human rights concerns.