NEW YORK – The Trump administration’s announcement of plans to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan on an “emergency” basis will place untold numbers of Yemeni civilians at severe risk of death or maiming from unlawful deployment of that weaponry, says Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), based on its assessment of violations to date. The “emergency” provision reflects the administration’s efforts to circumvent bipartisan congressional opposition to additional sales.
Earlier this year, Congress passed a bill intended to cut off all support to Saudi Arabia and its coalition’s operations in Yemen, including via arms sales. That bill, vetoed by President Trump, was designed to put a halt to the transfer of U.S.-made weaponry toward the advancement of a conflict that has inflicted catastrophic suffering on Yemeni civilians. The Saudi-Emirati-led coalition has used U.S. military armaments and ordnance, supported by U.S. training and intelligence, in lethal airstrikes on hospitals and other health care facilities in Yemen.
PHR is calling for the U.S. administration to cease the sale and transfer of these arms, which are being used to attack Yemeni civilians, civilian infrastructure, hospitals, and health workers. Such arms sales to the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition make the U.S. complicit in war crimes under international humanitarian law. The White House’s authorization of emergency arms sales allows the administration to bypass the typical review and approval process normally undertaken by Congress under the Arms Export Control Act, which states that Congress must approve all arms sales to foreign governments and have the ability to block such sales.
“The administration’s decision to defy Congress and circumvent its oversight authority under the Arms Export Control Act sets a dangerous precedent that will only add to the horrific toll of death and suffering inflicted on the Yemeni population,” said Phelim Kine, PHR’s director of research and investigations. “The Trump administration should stop arming the perpetrators, which facilitates war crimes, push for an end to the indiscriminate attacks on civilians and targeting of civilian infrastructure, and urge accountability for the egregious abuses inflicted on the Yemeni population.”
During the past 16 months, PHR has monitored the targeting of health care facilities and health workers and the failure to protect them from attacks by both the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition and the insurgent Houthis. PHR has independently confirmed more than 23 individual attacks on health facilities.
These attacks include Saudi-Emirati-led coalition air strikes that destroyed a clearly demarcated Doctors Without Borders clinic in the town of Abs on June 11, 2018, as well as an October 11, 2018 airstrike that severely damaged a hospital in ad-Durayhimi.
The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition reported in May that, in 2018, Yemen was among the countries that suffered the greatest number of attacks on health facilities, health workers, and health transport. Yemen suffered 53 such attacks last year. More than half of the hospitals and health facilities in Yemen are out of service or functioning only partially.
Rayan Koteiche, Middle East and North Africa researcher at PHR, said, “In Yemen, health care remains largely inaccessible, with many civilians having to travel long and often dangerous distances to access basic medical services. The attacks on medical facilities by the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition continue to cause significant long-term damage to Yemen’s health infrastructure. Additionally, the unremitting attacks, occupation of medical facilities, and multiple incidents of assaults on medical personnel have transformed health care facilities into zones of deadly peril rather than sites for medical treatment.”
Additional Resources from Physicians for Human Rights
● “Yemen: Attacks on Health” updates – February 2018 through January 2019
● Press Release: “2018: A Year of Dangerous Attacks on Health Workers, Facilities,” May 15, 2019
● Letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “Four years of war in Yemen: 24 Yemeni and global NGOs call on Germany to extend its moratorium on arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” March 27, 2019
● Press Release: “Civilians Must Be Protected as Hudeidah Comes Under Assault,” June 13, 2018
● Press Release: “Attacks on Medical Facilities in Yemen is a ‘Defining Element’ of Nation’s Intractable Conflict,” February 27, 2018
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.