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Saudi US arms

Saudi officers walk by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle fighter jets and guided bomb units at King Salman Air Base in Riyadh on January 25, 2017. (Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images)

Human Rights Watch to US: Stop Selling Weapons to Saudis

"Renewing U.S. offensive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia would further undermine Biden's promise to prioritize human rights in U.S. relations with the country."

Brett Wilkins

As U.S. President Joe Biden met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Friday, a top official at Human Rights Watch implored the American leader to not lift a ban on the sale of certain weapons to the repressive monarchy as it continues waging an atrocity-laden war in Yemen.

Responding to reports that the Biden administration is considering ending its vague proscription against the transfer of "offensive" weaponry to Saudi Arabia, Michael Page, Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Middle East and North Africa deputy director, warned that such a policy reversal "could lead to fresh rights violations in Yemen."

"Since the beginning of the war in 2015, Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented how the Saudi- and [United Arab Emirates]-led coalition has used U.S. weapons in apparent unlawful airstrikes, including apparent war crimes," wrote Page. "The U.S. government's own report has detailed... oversight failures on these sales."

More than 300,000 Yemenis have died during the seven-year war, 150,000 of them as a direct result of military action, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). A Saudi-led blockade of Yemen has exacerbated starvation and disease in the war-torn nation of 30 million inhabitants.

"Human Rights Watch has called for the suspension of all sales, both offensive and defensive, to Saudi Arabia and the UAE," said Page. "Renewing U.S. offensive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia would further undermine Biden's promise to prioritize human rights in U.S. relations with the country."

Shortly after taking office, Biden, who while campaigning for president vowed to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights crimes, imposed a temporary freeze on arms sales to the country and coalition partner UAE.

Human rights defenders were subsequently disappointed when the administration approved a $650 million air-to-air missile sale to the Royal Saudi Air Force and a $500 million support services contract for Saudi militaty helicopters.

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the $839 billion National Defense Authorization Act that limits U.S. weapons transfers to nations and armed forces implicated in human rights crimes.

Also on Thursday, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a resolution to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, which Sanders called "unauthorized and unconstitutional."

"This war has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis today," Sanders added, "and it is past time to end U.S. complicity in those horrors."

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