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US Congress Can Help Curb Saudi War Crimes in Yemen

Coalition’s Empty Promises Should Prompt Suspension of Arms Sales

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Sanaa on August 25, 2017, killing at least 16 civilians, including seven children, and wounding another 17, including eight children. After an international outcry, the coalition admitted to carrying out the attack, but provided no details on the coalition members involved in the attack.  © 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi
In June, 47 US senators voted to block the sale of precision-guided bombs worth US$510 million to Saudi Arabia. While the effort fell three votes short of passing, it sent a strong signal: US support for Saudi Arabia and its military campaign in Yemen is strong, but not unshakable. And Congress was rightly concerned that Saudi Arabia and the coalition it leads against Houthi-Saleh forces in Yemen has repeatedly carried out airstrikes against homes, markets, and schools, killing and maiming thousands of civilians in violation of the laws of war.

This provided a stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s message barely a month earlier in Riyadh, when he praised the coalition’s “strong action” in Yemen, and offered the Saudi’s US$110 billion in arms deals.

The administration was apparently unconcerned by mounting evidence of coalition war crimes, some committed with US weapons, and happy to accept assurances from Saudi’s foreign minister that the coalition would work to minimize civilian harm.

But in the three months since that promise was made, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen – the world’s largest – has spiraled out of control. More than seven million people are hungry and half a million are feared infected with cholera. Nor have the unlawful attacks stopped: since June, Human Rights Watch has investigated six apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes that killed at least 55 civilians, including 33 children.

This week, the US Congress has a chance to change the course of the conflict.

Senators Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, and Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, have filed an amendment to an annual defense bill that would ban the US from selling weapons to Saudi Arabia until it starts complying with the laws of war. Other members of Congress have proposed amendments to increase transparency over the reporting of civilian casualties.

So far, the US government has been content to keep the weapons to Riyadh flowing so long as Saudi Arabia pretends it’s been fighting a clean war. But its empty promises have proved devastating – and deadly – for Yemeni civilians.

Congress should make clear the US is no longer willing to be complicit in Saudi war crimes.


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