Human rights groups cheer Saudi arms sale vote despite failure

Human rights groups cheer Saudi arms sale vote despite failure
© Getty Images

Human rights groups applauded Wednesday’s vote in the Senate on blocking an arms sale to Saudi Arabia, saying it made an important statement even though the resolution was easily defeated.

“Today, for the first time since the war in Yemen began, 27 senators voiced the first cries of dissent against our government’s unconditional and unlimited support for the Saudi-led coalition,” Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser said in a written statement.

“Concern in Congress regarding the situation in Yemen and the U.S.’s heartless and disjointed approach to it will only grow stronger.”

The Senate voted 71-27 against a bipartisan resolution that would have blocked a planned $1.15 billion sale of tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia. The vote effectively killed the resolution.

The resolution was brought by Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDem senator ties Kavanaugh confirmation vote to Trump-Putin controversy Full interview: Chris Murphy speaks out on the Trump-Putin meeting and what it means Dem senator: NATO has become 'functionally obsolete' under Trump MORE (D-Conn.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump McCain: Trump plays into 'Putin's hands' by attacking Montenegro, questioning NATO obligations MORE (R-Ky.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws AP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct Franken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' MORE (D-Minn.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Utah) amid growing concern from lawmakers about U.S. support for a Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition has fought Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015, with the United States supporting the effort by providing air refueling and limited intelligence, as well as selling the Saudis billions of dollars of weapons.

Lawmaker criticism of the campaign has grown louder in recent months amid a mounting civilian death toll, including recent airstrikes on a hospital and a school.

The Saudi coalition has said it is investigating reports of civilian causalities, and U.S. officials have said they encourage avoiding civilian harm.

While applauding the senators who supported the effort to block the latest arms sale, Offenheiser said having a minority of support from the U.S. Senate will provide little comfort to Yemenis.

“Of course, the courage and common sense of a minority of senators will be cold comfort to the millions of Yemenis struggling to survive without adequate food or health services amidst daily bombing and shelling,” he said.

“Today, millions of Yemenis are on the verge of starvation and more than 10,000 children under 5 have died from preventable diseases. Every tank, missile and gallon of jet fuel supplied by the U.S. to the Saudi-led coalition is a clear signal that the US is indifferent to Yemen’s misery.”

Amnesty International said the vote was the latest example of growing lawmaker opposition to the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia.

“Today’s vote is the latest example of a growing trend of dissent in Congress when it comes to the United States’ military alliance with Saudi Arabia,” Sunjeev Bery, Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“U.S. officials know that the Saudi government continues dropping bombs on civilian communities and yet the Obama administration continues selling them weapons. This arms deal is bad for the people of Yemen, bad for the region and bad for U.S. foreign policy. President Obama should cancel it immediately.”

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the lobbying arm of the Quakers, said the vote is a beginning for congressional opposition to the war in Yemen, rather than an end.

“Just a year ago, it would have been virtually unthinkable that there would even be a Senate vote to block an arms deal to Saudi Arabia,” Kate Gould, FCNL’s legislative representative for Middle East policy, said in a written statement.

“Every one of the 27 votes against this arms deal sends a crystal clear message that the Saudi-led carpet bombing of Yemen must come to an end, and Riyadh must meaningfully engage in a political solution to end the bloodshed in Yemen.”

Gould also called on the public to press Congress and the Obama administration further on the issue.

“Every American who doesn’t want to have their imprint on Yemeni civilian deaths should press the Obama administration and Congress to stop arming and abetting Saudi’s mass killings of civilians,” Gould said.

Win Without War, a coalition of progressive groups, also said Congress and the White House should build on Wednesday’s vote. 

“The United States is at its best when it is a global leader in defending human rights, and that commitment must include holding its allies accountable for their actions as well,” Win Without War Director Stephen Miles said in a written statement.

“Today’s vote should also be the beginning, not the end, of a larger debate involving America’s involvement in the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led military campaign has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths.”