By Ed Kinane and Ursula Rozum
On March 25, 2015, a Saudi-led coalition entered the Yemeni civil war. One year later, the fighting has killed more than 6,200 civilians and displaced millions, pushing the Arab world’s poorest country, Yemen, to the brink of famine. We ask all people of conscience to join us in calling on the Obama administration and the US Congress to end the US alliance with Saudi Arabia and to stop providing the Saudi regime with military and diplomatic support.
One of the deadliest of the attacks of the war occurred just recently on March 15 when fighter jets from a Saudi-led coalition bombed a market in Mastaba, in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah. The latest count indicates that about 120 people were killed, including more than 20 children, and 80 were wounded in the strikes. According to social media accounts, after the first strike, people rushed to rescue wounded and planes twice bombed the injured and emergency responders, a tactic known as double tapping. Intentionally targeting civilians and first responders is a war crime.
While U.S. fighter jets are not directly involved in the bombing campaign on Yemen, the U.S. is providing intelligence, weapons sales, and refueling for Saudi jets. After the March 15 market attack, a top United Nations official, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, said the Saudi coalition might be committing war crimes.
Among the weapons the US is providing to Saudi Arabia are cluster bombs. Cluster bombs can be dropped from aircraft. They open in mid-air and spread out over a wide area before exploding. Cluster bombs that fail to detonate or self-destruct become de facto land mines, land mines which can kill or maim unsuspecting civilians far into the future. Due to the danger cluster bombs pose to noncombatants, they were banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a 2008 treaty signed by 116 nations but not the US.
In addition to Saudi aggression again Yemen, the Saudi regime is also repressing human rights within its own borders, reason enough to suspend arms sales. While President Obama scolds the Cuban government for curtailing free speech, his administration rewards the regime of Saudi monarch King Al-Saud. The execution and crucifixion in January of Sheikh Nimr al–Nimr, an advocate of a nonviolent strategy and an opponent of both Sunni and Shiite sectarianism, is a recent example of the barbarity of the Saudi dictatorship. The government carried out at least 157 executions in 2015, many of them by beheadings. Saudi Arabia’s outrageous oppression of women is well known and, as Amnesty International has documented, the regime equates criticism of the government and other peaceful activities with “terrorism.” Dissent is systematically and violently repressed.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s repressive domestic and regional policies, the Obama administration has approved $50 billion in new arms sales while US companies train thousands of Saudi military personnel. Technically, US human rights law, specifically, the Leahy Law of 2008, prohibits the US government from providing military assistance to foreign militaries that violate human rights. Unfortunately, Congress continually fails in its responsibility to enforce this law.
To reverse the horrific downward spiral of politics in the Middle East, the US needs to pursue a policy that respects human rights, that puts diplomacy before militarism. A critical element of such a policy would be for the United States to suspend all forms of support for the Saudi government and to any actors that violate human rights and commit war crimes.