On Sept. 21, the Biden administration announced that it is preparing a massive new $500 million weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. The deal could have troubling implications for human rights. Now, with just days left for Congress to intervene, it’s critical that our lawmakers act to stop the cycle of impunity for Saudi Arabia’s abuses.
Just a month before the announcement, on Aug. 21, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a damning report exposing atrocities committed by Saudi border guards against Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers at the Saudi-Yemen border.
It’s critical that our lawmakers act to stop the cycle of impunity for Saudi Arabia’s abuses.
These horrifying incidents, documented in December 2022, included the use of explosive weapons and mass field executions of hundreds of migrants, including women and children. Accounts of torture, rape, and torment were also included in the report.
“They fired on us like rain,” said Munira, a 20-year-old from Ethiopia’s Oromia region who gave a personal account of one incident. “I saw a guy calling for help, he lost both his legs. He was screaming; he was saying, ‘Are you leaving me here? Please don’t leave me.’ We couldn’t help him because we were running for our lives.” The New York Times later reported that the Biden Administration was informed last year about the killings of these migrants, but shamefully chose not to publicize the issue.
The newly announced sale would provide maintenance, spare parts, and munitions for lethal weapons including rifles and mortars—the same kinds of weapons that were likely used by Saudi border guards in these brutal acts of violence.
The HRW report’s findings fit into a larger pattern of impunity for Saudi abuses. The kingdom’s human rights record is one of the most egregious in the world. Its military campaign in Yemen has resulted in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with over two million children still suffering from acute hunger.
Members of Congress should work to block this sale and ensure that U.S. weapons are never used to violate human rights.
The 2018 murder of U.S. permanent resident and Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi remains a stain on Saudi Arabia’s global reputation. Despite calls for accountability, the kingdom has remained defiant, and recent reports show a pattern of escalating crackdowns, including sentencing social media users to death for criticism.
It’s now on Congress to act. Senators can introduce a privileged Joint Resolution of Disapproval (JRD) within 30 days to block a notified weapons sale under the Arms Export Control Act. That means there’s a fast track to a vote, enabling a much-needed debate about how this sale could make the United States complicit in horrific violations of human rights against asylum seekers at the Saudi border.
Senators have until approximately Oct. 20 to take action to block the deal. The moral and political stakes are high. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that peace and regional stability are centered in any conversation about U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia. Members of Congress should work to block this sale and ensure that U.S. weapons are never used to violate human rights.