According to a report [Reuters report] released Monday, the Obama administration conducted a $1.3 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia last year despite warnings that such contribution to the country’s activities could implicate the US for war crimes. The information was discovered through current and former government officials as well as documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [official website]. The information showed that the administration never made a determination of whether such an arms deal would make the US or its military personnel open to prosecution, although one email contained a reference to precedent the US used in previous litigation that would suggest an affirmative answer. The documents also showed an effort by the US to limit Saudi Arabia’s use of the arms, pressing them to limit civilian casualties and providing “no strike lists” limiting locations that could be attacked. However, there was also skepticism as to whether the Saudi military was experienced enough to effectively follow these limitations. The US’s dealings with Saudi Arabia will be under the spotlight, as this report was released after yet another attack in Yemen. While the Saudi-led coalition denied responsibility, UN officials looked in their direction and issued a statement [JURIST report] containing a request for all States to reevaluate their contribution to the situation and move towards a ceasefire.
Last month independent UN human rights expert Alfred de Zayas [official profile] said [JURIST report] that “[a]rms deals are a major threat to security, peace and human rights.” Looking at what could create legal consequences for the US, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Yemen has sparked significant international concern. Also last month international human rights groups issued a joint letter [JURIST report] to the permanent representatives of member and observer states of the UN Human Rights Council urging them “to support the High Commissioner’s call [JURIST report] for an international, independent investigation into civilian deaths and injuries in Yemen.” In July Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] urged [JURIST report] Saudi Arabia and other coalition members to create an independent international inquiry into their attacks on civilian economic structures in Yemen. In March two human rights groups called [JURIST report] for the US, the UK and France to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia due to accusations and evidence that the weapons are being used in attacks against Yemen.