September 01, 2016

ABA concerned about impact of arms sales on civilians

The ABA commended Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) this month for their efforts to draw attention to humanitarian issues in Yemen resulting from the armed conflict in that country and the need for increased scrutiny of U.S. exports of military equipment to parties to that conflict.

Paul and Murphy introduced S.J. Res. 39 to block the U.S. sale of tanks, guns, ammunition and other defense materials to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in response to reports that Saudi security forces have used U.S.-origin military equipment, including cluster munitions, in operations in Yemen for indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians. The Senate, however, rejected the joint resolution Sept. 21, when senators voted 71-27 to table a motion to bring the measure to a vote.

“The ABA regards human rights and the rule of law as cornerstones of a free and just society, including in times of armed conflict,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote in a Sept. 14 letter to Murphy and Paul. The association, he said, supports “strict adherence to the law of armed conflict” and has called for investigations into alleged violations of such laws by both the United States and others. He pointed out that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra-ad Al Hussein has called for an international independent investigation into serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed by all sides in the conflict in Yemen.

Susman emphasized that the United States has an obligation to suspend further security assistance until it can be credibly determined that Saudi Arabia − and any other recipients of U.S. defense articles participating in the conflict – are abiding by the law of armed conflict and have fully investigated these allegations.

“The ABA is concerned that ongoing export of equipment that has been used in an inappropriate manner in civilian areas could have a destabilizing influence in the region,” Susman wrote. “If the United States is perceived, even implicitly, to condone or aid and abet indiscriminate attacks on civilians, our nation’s efforts to isolate and marginalize those advocating violent extremism will be undermined,” he concluded. 

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