(Washington, DC) – The United States should immediately halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia following numerous unlawful coalition attacks in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to President Barack Obama. The review announced by the US government following the October 8, 2016 bombing of a crowded funeral hall should examine alleged unlawful airstrikes in which US forces may have taken part and its findings should be released publicly before Obama leaves office.
“While coalition forces bomb homes, schools, hospitals and funerals in Yemen, the United States continues to allow shipments of billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “President Obama has one final chance to change US policy on Saudi Arabia and Yemen for the better by stopping weapons’ transfers immediately and reviewing possible participation of US forces in the coalition’s many unlawful airstrikes.”
Since March 2015, at least 4,125 civilians have been killed and 7,207 wounded in Yemen, the majority by Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Houthis and their allies, including forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, have also been implicated in numerous serious violations of the laws of war.
Human Rights Watch has documented 58 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes, and 16 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions. The coalition used US-manufactured weapons in 21 of these apparently unlawful attacks, including two of the deadlier strikes – the March 15 attack on Mastaba market, which killed at least 97 civilians, and the October 8 attack on the funeral service in Sanaa, which killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 500. Both appear to amount to war crimes.
The repeated use of US-manufactured munitions in unlawful attacks in Yemen could make the US complicit for future transfers of arms to Saudi forces. As Congressman Ted Lieu said in a recent letter, referring to the conviction in an international court of the former Liberian president for abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone, “The Charles Taylor case precedent puts US officials at risk of being implicated in aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen.”
Immediately following the October 8 funeral strike, the US National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price announced the US had “initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support” to the coalition. The US, a party to the conflict, has not been forthcoming about whether its forces provided aerial refueling, tactical intelligence or otherwise participated during unlawful coalition attacks, and should examine these questions during the ongoing review.
“By halting this transfer during his final months in office, President Obama could make a real difference in the lives of Yemeni people and show Riyadh there are consequences for committing war crimes,” Margon said.