Amnesty Intl to Trump: Don't approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain

Amnesty Intl to Trump: Don't approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain
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A leading human rights group is urging President Trump not to approve pending arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

In a letter to Trump released publicly Tuesday, Amnesty International urged Trump not to sign off on the sales because of the Saudi-led coalition’s conduct in Yemen's civil war.

“There is substantial risk that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other coalition members could use new U.S. arms to further devastate civilian lives in Yemen,” the organization wrote in the letter. “This could implicate your administration in war crimes or violations of international humanitarian law. Amnesty International researchers have already found both unexploded U.S. bombs and identifiable fragments of exploded U.S. bombs among the ruins of Yemeni homes and other civilian objects.”

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Late in President Obama’s tenure, the Obama administration halted a planned sale of $300 million in precision guided munitions to Riyadh over concerns about the mounting civilian death toll in Yemen.

As of February, 4,667 civilians have been killed and 8,180 injured in the conflict so far, according to the United Nations.

The Obama administration’s decision to halt the sale came after increasing pressure from human rights groups and some lawmakers, who were dismayed the decision to curb support was limited to the one sale.

But new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has approved the resumption of the sale, according to multiple reports. The sale needs White House approval before it moves forward.

Meanwhile, the administration is also reportedly set to approve a $3 billion dollar sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain.

The coalition has been fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels since March 2015. The United States has supported the effort with limited intelligence and logistics such as air refueling, as well as selling the Saudis billions of dollars of arms.

The Trump administration has signaled a desire to step up the fight against the Houthis as part of its countering of Iranian aggression, citing Iran’s support for the rebels when it put the country “on notice” in February.

In its letter, Amnesty said the arms sale to Saudi Arabia could allow the country to modify thousands of air-to-ground munitions that could be used in strikes against civilians and violate international law.

In addition to wanting to stop the two arms sales, Amnesty also asked Trump to place a “comprehensive embargo” on all arms sales that could be used by parties to the Yemen conflict so long as there is risk of war crimes or other violations. 

“If approved, this deal would essentially have President Trump throwing gasoline on a house fire and locking the door on his way out,” Margaret Huang, Amnesty International USA executive director, said in a statement.

“Arming the Saudi Arabia and Bahrain governments risks complicity with war crimes, and doing so while simultaneously banning travel to the U.S. from Yemen would be even more unconscionable. President Trump must not approve this arms deal.”