(GPA) – The Saudi Arabian government has been heavily criticized over the past few months for war crimes they’ve carried out in Yemen. Many in the US have been critical of the federal government for supplying the Saudis with the weapons used in the conflict but this past week, the White House cancelled a shipment of one of the most controversial weapons used in Yemen: Cluster Bombs.
Since the beginning of the year both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have issued reports on civilian casualties in Yemen that are the result of cluster bomb munitions dropped in civilian areas. The reports of civilian deaths caused by cluster bombs, along with a long list of complaints by the international community of various other war crimes led the UN to blacklist the Saudis and their coalition allies.
The Saudis have been responsible for over 500 deaths of children (around 60% of the total child deaths in the conflict.) The UN’s decision was held up by the international community as a step in the right direction but quickly ended in a similar way to most resolutions passed against Riyadh when the kingdom was removed from the blacklist around 24 hours later.
Multiple watchdog agencies criticized the UN’s decision as being politically based and is what critics of the Saudis are used to seeing since Western powers back the Saudis whenever they’re backed into a corner. The history of incidents like this is what leads most people to believe the US and friends will stand by the Saudi family no matter what comes their way.
This is why it has come as a surprise to some that the White House has quietly cancelled the latest shipment of the notorious cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia amid the controversies caused by the use of the munitions on civilian areas. A US official who spoke to Foreign Policy and said that the the White House “took these accusations seriously” and was conducting further investigation into the matter.
Cluster munitions have been banned in civilian areas since the long term damage was realized after their use by US forces in places like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The US is one of the few nations who sells cluster bombs (along with Russia) and opted to not sign an anti-cluster munitions treaty in 2008. Countries like the UK did sign the treaty, yet like the US they also circumvent their own laws (although they deny this) in order to sell nations like Saudi Arabia to carry out their interventions in countries like Yemen and Syria.
Regardless of the stoppage of the sale of the cluster munitions it may only be temporary and Saudi Arabia is still fully capable of wreaking havoc on poorer nations like Yemen. The Saudis still have the world’s third largest military budget; even surpassing Russia in spending levels. The cluster munitions are only one small step in the right direction, as far as the armament of Saudi Arabia goes but it does show that the leaders in the US are listening to the increased criticism of the country over the past year and hopefully with more pressure this trend will continue.