Two United States senators are looking to impose new restrictions on the export of arms to Saudi Arabia, introducing a measure on Thursday that would require the U.S. president to certify that the Saudis are taking adequate steps to fight terrorism and protect civilians before shipping it any more weapons.
The proposal, from Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, comes as Saudi Arabia is waging a war in neighboring Yemen against Houthi insurgents aligned with the country’s former dictator and allegedly supported by the Saudis’ regional rival, Iran.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in over a year of fighting, according to the United Nations, half of them civilians—and while all sides have killed innocents, monitors say the majority have been killed by the Saudis and their allies, with cruise missiles and cluster bombs provided by the West.
Since November 2013, the U.S. has authorized at least US$35.7 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International, with a US$1.29 billion deal approved just last November.
The measure introduced Thursday would not halt arms sales to the Saudis, as called for by human rights groups like Amnesty. Instead, the amendment to a military spending bill would require that the U.S. president declare prior to any new arms shipments that Saudi Arabia and its war partners are “taking all feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure,” and “taking all necessary measures to target designated foreign terrorist organizations.”
“Saudi Arabia is an important partner,” Senator Murphy said in a press release, “but the United States needs to recognize when a friend’s actions are not in our national interest. There’s no evidence that the Saudi campaign in Yemen, enabled by the United States, advances our interests or makes us any safer.”
“In fact,” Murphy continued, “the civil war in Yemen is prolonging human suffering and playing into the hands of the same terrorist groups that are working to attack Americans.”
According to UNICEF, 21.2 million people in Yemen—82 percent of the population—now require “some form of humanitarian assistance” to survive since the start of the war in March 2015. “An estimated 2.3 million people are now internally displaced, 14.1 million people are in need of access to basic health care, and 19.3 million people require access to safe, clean water.”
In October 2015, over a dozen U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing “dismay” over the Saudi-led war in Yemen—backed not just by U.S. arms, but fought with the help of U.S. military advisors—urging him to ensure that Saudi attacks “correspond to the standards that would apply to any U.S. military operation for limiting civilian casualties.”
Less than two weeks later the Saudi-led coalition repeatedly struck a Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Yemen, which the medical aid group denounced as “a war crime.”
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