Demands to Stop Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia Amid Continued Crisis in Yemen.

On September 2, 2018, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement calling for all countries to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and to demand an independent investigation into potential war crimes in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.  The HRW statement was in response to a Saudi-led bombing of a school bus on August 9th and a subsequent report by the Saudi coalition’s investigative team admitting that mistakes had been made and this attack was unjustified. The United States has been giving Saudi Arabia logistical and intelligence support and weapons deals totaling over $1 billion, but the recent event has amplified demands for the U.S. and other countries to reduce their support for Saudi Arabia because of their use in killing civilians.

The Saudi’s rare admittance of wrongdoing, as well as a recent United Nations report suggesting that all parties in the Yemen conflict have participated in war crimes, have put an increasing spotlight on the involvement of countries like the U.S. and U.K.  Bill Van Esveld, an HRW researcher stated that “the Saudi-led coalition’s attack on a bus full of young boys adds to its already gruesome track record of killing civilians,” and that “countries with knowledge of this record that are supplying more bombs to the Saudis will be complicit in future deadly attacks on civilians.”  

In addition to moral questions about supporting the Saudi-coalition airstrikes, there are also legal issues, including the UN Arms Trade Treaty’s obligation that countries ensure weapons sold are not used to commit crimes against humanity, and in the United States, the War Powers Resolution prevents participation in armed conflict without the consent of Congress.   

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of Arab forces to intervene in the Yemeni Civil War.  The coalition is fighting on behalf of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi against Houthi forces. The U.S. has been supporting the Saudi side of the conflict by providing logistical support and defense contracts with plans for billions of dollars in arms sales, all while not officially being involved in the war.  There is a lack of sufficient knowledge about the events going on with our support, with the HRW finding that the Saudi coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) has failed to carry out credible investigations, with only a handful out of 16,000+ raids actually having been investigated. The HRW has identified U.S. sourced weapons at 24 sites of attacks in Yemen, calling into question the U.S.’s role in the attacks and any civilian casualties under the UN Arms Trade Treaty.   

There have been actions and pressure from the U.S. Congress calling for more accountability for U.S. involvement in Yemen, including an amendment introduced by Senator Chris Murphy last month that would defund U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen.  Also, in November 2017, the House of Representative used the 1973 War Powers Act to pass a resolution stating that U.S. military assistance in Yemen is unauthorized. Congress could use the same Act to pass a stronger resolution calling for a stop to military assistance in Yemen.  This would help put an end to violence in Yemen because of how much the Saudis depend on the U.S.

The UN has named Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with over 22 million people in need of humanitarian aid.  By providing support to Saudi Arabia, countries like the U.S. are actively facilitating conflict and violence and allowing the humanitarian disaster to continue.  Before peaceful attempts to solve the war in Yemen can begin, the US and other countries need to stop supporting the violent conflict by providing weapons. Especially when Saudi Arabia continues to commit atrocities such as the recent school bus attack.  

Every individual could make a difference on the issue of violence in Yemen by being aware of what your government is doing, as well as contacting your government representatives and letting them know that you don’t support actions taken to assist Saudi Arabia’s violence.  Public pressure for more transparency in our involvement and motives can help end involvement in the Yemeni Civil War. 

As long as Saudi Arabia is being given weapons and support without any enforcement of accountability, innocent civilians will continue to be killed. Instead of making money off of a war we aren’t officially involved in, the U.S. and other countries should act to deal with the conflict by providing aid to the millions of Yemen citizens who need it and by persuading both sides to work with the UN on peace talks.