Congress’ Chance to Oppose the Saudi $110 Billion Dollar Arms Deal

By Adotei Akwei and Amal Afyouni

This week the Senate has a critical opportunity to reject the Trump administration’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia , which has come to symbolize the rejection of commitments to human rights by this administration.

On May 20th President Trump signed a $110 billion defense deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as part of the U.S Saudi Counter-Terrorism Partnership, $510 million of this deal is for the commercial sale of precision guided munitions and related services. This week, the Senate is expected to vote on Senate Joint Resolution 42, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Al Franken (D-MN), aimed at blocking the Trump-Saudi defense deal, specifically the $510 million commercial sale of precision guided munitions and related services.

For years Amnesty International, along with numerous other human rights organizations, have documented atrocities committed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, use of internationally banned cluster munitions including ones made by the U.S., the destruction of homes, markets, shopping streets and virtually every public building.

Amnesty International also documented at least 34 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes that have killed 494 people (including at least 148 children) and injured another 359. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has similarly documented 81 apparently unlawful coalition attacks since the conflict started in March 2015. Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes have bombed civilian areas, including markets, schools, and hospitals, and have killed thousands of people.

One airstrike on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital on 15 August 2016 killed at least 19 people and injured 24 others. Sixteen-year-old ambulance driver Ayman Issa Bakri was among those killed by a US-made bomb in the attack. When his body was found, he was still holding the body of the woman he had been transferring from the ambulance.

Amnesty International has traced some of the bombs used in these attacks to previous arms sales by the U.S., raising the likelihood that the U.S. government was complicit in these potential war crimes.

A growing bipartisan group of Members of Congress has also raised serious concerns with both the Obama and Trump administrations.

The Trump-Saudi arms deal will worsen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen which has already resulted in more than seven million civilians on the brink of famine. More than three million have fled their homes as Yemen’s political state continues to deteriorate as a result of the Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign.

Finally, this arms deal also violates the U.S.’ own laws by violating the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 and Presidential Policy Directive 27 (PPD27), both of which prohibit the US from transferring weapons to human rights abusers and violators of international humanitarian law.

Congress can and must send a clear message to the administration that blind unquestioning support for the Saudi-led Coalition undermines U.S. obligations to protect human rights. Amnesty International calls upon all Senators to approve S.J. Res. 42 to end the use of U.S. weapons that have caused unspeakable suffering for the people of Yemen.