Statement On Military Sales to Saudi Arabia

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Military Sales to Saudi Arabia
Congressional Record

September 21, 2016

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to address the issues at the heart of S. J. Res. 39, the resolution introduced by Senators Paul, Murphy, Lee and Franken regarding the sale of $1.15 billion in military equipment to the Government of Saudi Arabia.

Despite obvious differences in our systems of government and concerning the rights of women and other issues, the United States and Saudi Arabia have a longstanding partnership that has benefitted both countries. For roughly six decades security cooperation has been an important part of the relationship, fueled by military sales to Saudi Arabia under both Republican and Democratic administrations. For its part, the Government of Saudi Arabia has pledged to work with the United States in countering terrorism in the region.

But what has been unfolding in Yemen since the spring of 2015 should concern all Senators. There have been frequent, credible reports of Saudi Arabian armed forces indiscriminately attacking civilian-populated areas, targeting civilians, and otherwise misusing U.S.-origin weapons; of humanitarian access being impeded; and of a lack of serious investigations of, and accountability for, those who have alleged to have caused civilian casualties.

I am not opposed to training and equipping our allies, or selling them the weapons they require, to combat terrorism. But the conditions under which we provide such support must include a commitment to avoid civilian casualties, and to ensure that if egregious harm is done to the civilian population there are thorough investigations, punishment if warranted, and assistance is provided to the victims. We should also be confident that the strategy and tactics of our allies are achieving goals that we share.

Since the earliest reports of harm inflicted by Saudi forces on the civilian population in Yemen I have repeatedly raised this issue with the Department of State. Although the Department and Saudi officials have offered assurances that effective steps are being taken to avoid civilian casualties and to investigate when they occur, the attacks and casualties have continued. Efforts by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation into war crimes in Yemen have to date been rebuffed by the Saudi government. There is scant evidence that the assurances reflect a meaningful change in strategy or tactics, or that the Saudi military operations in Yemen are achieving their goals.

That is why I cannot support the provision of military equipment, particularly on this scale, to any country as long as legitimate concerns regarding the manner in which such equipment is being used remain unaddressed. It is inconsistent with the laws of war, and it implicates, at least indirectly, the United States. I need to be convinced that the Saudi government is taking effective steps to reduce civilian casualties, to address the harm caused by its operations, and to support the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid to those in need.

Therefore, I will support the resolution and oppose the motion to table.

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