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Twenty-nine groups have urged the White House to halt a proposed arms deal to UAE, warning in part that it "would set a dangerous precedent of armed drone transfers to rights-abusing nations and add to the proliferation of this dangerous weapon." (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Madelyn Brown)

Warning of International Law Violations, Rights Groups Demand Halt to Trump Weapons Sale to UAE

"In Yemen, airstrikes by the Saudi- and Emirati-led Coalition are responsible for the majority of civilian casualties," 29 groups write in a new letter.

Andrea Germanos

A coalition of international groups on Monday criticized the Trump administration's proposed $23 billion arms sale to United Arab Emirates—saying it would worsen humanitarian crises and "send a signal of impunity for the UAE's recent conduct, which includes likely violations of international law"—and called on the U.S. to stop supporting the war in Yemen.

The letter was sent to lawmakers and the State Department, according to Reuters, which first reported on the document. 

Spearheaded by the Washington, D.C.-based Project on Middle East Democracy and signed by 28 other organizations including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Democracy for the Arab World Now, and Peace Action, the letter addresses the planned arms package to UAE, which includes F-35 fighter jets and armed drones and has previously drawn concern from a bipartisan group of senators and human rights organizations.  

"We call upon the Trump administration and President-elect Biden to halt these sales, suspend all conventional arms sales and transfers to UAE, and end all U.S. support for the war in Yemen."
—29 International Groups
"In Yemen, airstrikes by the Saudi- and Emirati-led Coalition are responsible for the majority of civilian casualties as well as widespread displacement, starvation, and illness brought about by the destruction of schools, hospitals, markets, and other essential infrastructure and services. Many of these have been cited as likely violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), potentially exposing U.S. officials to criminal liability for aiding and abetting war crimes," the letter states.

"In light of the UAE's record of civilian harm and human rights violations, the proposed sales violate long-standing provisions in the Foreign Assistance Act that prohibit the United States from providing arms and security assistance to perpetrators of gross human rights abuses and those restricting access to humanitarian assistance," the groups add. The letter also points to possible violations of the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer policy, "which requires the State Department to account for possible violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in arms transfer decisions."

The groups expressed further concern because the sale would "mark the first armed drone export since the Trump administration's concerning reinterpretation of the Missile Technology Control Regime to allow U.S. defense contractors to sell more drones with fewer restrictions." As such, the deal "would set a dangerous precedent of armed drone transfers to rights-abusing nations and add to the proliferation of this dangerous weapon," the letter adds. 

"We call upon the Trump administration and President-elect Biden to halt these sales, suspend all conventional arms sales and transfers to UAE, and end all U.S. support for the war in Yemen," the groups write. "We call upon Congress to vote to suspend these sales, and to oppose any future arms sales or other military support to parties to the conflicts in Yemen and Libya."

The new letter was released the same day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a classified briefing on the proposed weapons sale.

Committee member Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.),  who was among a trio of lawmakers that introduced last month a slew of joint resolutions of disapproval to block the sales, voiced renewed concern Monday evening.

"Just left the classified briefing on the proposed massive, unprecedented arms sale to UAE, including F-35s and Reaper drones. Just a mind blowing number of unsettled issues and questions the administration couldn't answer. Hard to overstate the danger of rushing this though," Murphy tweeted  Monday. 

The nation's top diplomat, meanwhile, has framed the deal as an extension of the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords. 

"The UAE's historic agreement to normalize relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to positively transform the region's strategic landscape," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month. "The proposed sale will make the UAE even more capable and interoperable with U.S. partners in a manner fully consistent with America's longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel's Qualitative Military Edge."

That's an assessment rejected by Murphy, who said last month that while he backs "the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates... nothing in that agreement requires us to flood the region with more weapons and facilitate a dangerous arms race" and warned of the potential for them to be used in violation of U.S. and international law.

"The UAE has violated past arms sales agreements, resulting in U.S. arms ending up in the arms of dangerous militia groups, and they have failed to comply with international law in Libya and Yemen," the Connecticut Democrat said. 

"A sale this large and this consequential should not happen in the waning days of a lame duck presidency," said Murphy, "and Congress must take steps to stop this dangerous transfer of weapons."


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