We the undersigned non-governmental organizations write in opposition to the United States government’s plans to sell more than $23 billion in advanced weapons systems and munitions to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The planned arms sales to the UAE, a party to the conflicts in Yemen and Libya, would fuel continued civilian harm and further exacerbate these humanitarian crises. Delivery of the sales would undermine U.S. national security interests by fueling instability, violent conflict, and radicalization in the Middle East and North Africa and would also send a signal of impunity for the UAE’s recent conduct, which includes likely violations of international law. We call on Congress to pass the bipartisan resolutions of disapproval to block these sales, and on the Trump administration and President-elect Biden to halt these sales, suspend all conventional arms sales and transfers to the UAE, and end all U.S. support for the war in Yemen.
In Yemen, airstrikes by the Saudi- and Emirati-led Coalition are responsible for the majority of civilian casualties as well as widespread displacement, starvation, and illness brought about by the destruction of schools, hospitals, markets, and other essential infrastructure and services. Many of these have been cited as likely violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), potentially exposing U.S. officials to criminal liability for aiding and abetting war crimes. The Coalition’s air, land, and sea blockade has restricted the flow of food, fuel, medicine, and humanitarian aid to civilians, causing hunger, sickness, and death and exacerbating Yemen’s devastating humanitarian crisis. Reports have also documented the torture of detainees in UAE-run secret prisons and the UAE’s transfer of U.S. equipment to al-Qaeda-linked fighters and other militias fighting in Yemen, a clear violation of U.S. end-user agreements.
In Libya, the UAE has provided arms and military support to warlord Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) in direct violation of a United Nations arms embargo and stated U.S. policy, prolonging a conflict that has cost the lives of thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and left millions in need of humanitarian assistance. The Emirati government has reportedly provided materiel and mercenaries and conducted air raids in support of Haftar’s forces, including through the use of armed drones that have reportedly killed dozens of civilians and damaged civilian homes and health facilities. In addition, according to a recent U.S. inspector general report, the Defense Intelligence Agency assessed that the UAE may provide some financing to the Russian Wagner paramilitary group in Libya.
Within the UAE, the Emirati government consistently violates the human rights of its citizens and migrant workers, the latter of whom make up the majority of the population. The government has placed severe restrictions on free expression, assembly, and association; has systematically violated the human rights of migrant workers through an abusive sponsorship system; and has carried out the arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture of political prisoners and human rights defenders.
In light of the UAE’s record of civilian harm and human rights violations, the proposed sales violate long-standing provisions in the Foreign Assistance Act that prohibit the United States from providing arms and security assistance to perpetrators of gross human rights abuses and those restricting access to humanitarian assistance. In addition, the proposed sales would contravene the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer policy, updated by the Trump administration, which requires the State Department to account for possible violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in arms transfer decisions.
The planned sale of drones to the UAE would also mark the first armed drone export since the Trump administration’s concerning reinterpretation of the Missile Technology Control Regime to allow U.S. defense contractors to sell more drones with fewer restrictions. This sale would set a dangerous precedent of armed drone transfers to rights-abusing nations and add to the proliferation of this dangerous weapon.
These sales undermine U.S. interests and fuel civilian harm and human rights violations in Yemen, Libya, and beyond. We call upon the Trump administration and President-elect Biden to halt these sales, suspend all conventional arms sales and transfers to UAE, and end all U.S. support for the war in Yemen. We call upon Congress to vote to suspend these sales, and to oppose any future arms sales or other military support to parties to the conflicts in Yemen and Libya.
Action on Armed Violence (AOAV)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
American Friends Service Committee
Arms Control Association
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Campaign Against Arms Trade
Center for International Policy
Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic
Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Drone Wars UK
Feminist Majority Foundation
Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Human Rights First
Mwatana for Human Rights
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Security Policy Reform Institute (SPRI)
Shadow World Investigations
United for Peace and Justice
Win Without War
World Beyond War
Photo Credit: R. Nial Bradshaw / U.S. Air Force