March 27, 2019

Cardin Floor Statement on the Bipartisan Enhancing Human Rights in Arms Sales Act of 2019

Mr. President, today I rise to speak about the Enhancing Human Rights in Arms Sales Act of 2019, which I was proud to introduce on Monday with my colleagues, Senators Dick Durbin, Ron Wyden and Ed Markey.  Senators Jeff Merkley, Chris Van Hollen, Robert Casey, and Rand Paul also cosponsored the bill this week.  Our bipartisan bill takes critical steps to ensure that U.S. manufactured weapons are not used in the commission of heinous war crimes, the repression of human rights, or by terrorists who seek to do harm to Americans and innocent civilians abroad.  We do not only have a moral obligation to ensure that U.S. weapons are used responsibly, but it is clearly in our national security interest.

As you may be aware, Mr. President, the United States is the world’s leading arms supplier.  According to data compiled by the Security Assistance Monitor, from 2002 to 2016, the United States has delivered more than $286 billion worth of major conventional weapons and related military support to 200 recipients.  The Cato Institute found that more than 40% of nations purchasing these arms are at high risk of instability, terror, or egregious human rights abuses. 

There are far too many examples of what can happen when we sell or transfer arms without proper vetting.  In Yemen, U.S. arms transferred to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their coalition, have been linked to more than 1,000 civilian casualties, according to a recent report from a coalition of local and international human rights NGOs. 

In December 2017, the Trump administration lifted a freeze on weapons transfers to Nigeria to sell 12 Super Tucano A-29 aircraft and thousands of bombs and rockets worth $593 million, according to a Reuters report.  Earlier that same year, the BBC reported that at least 115 civilians were killed in a Nigerian military airstrike on an IDP camp.  20 Red Cross humanitarian aid workers were among the casualties.

Reuters reports that since 2000, the United States has provided close to $1 billion worth of military equipment to the Philippines, ranging from surveillance planes, drones and boats to small arms.  Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 4,000 men, women, and children have been killed by some of the country’s security forces in the government’s anti-drug campaign.  President Duterte has openly encouraged the security forces to engage in extra-judicial killings. Congress recently prevented the Administration from selling small arms to the Philippines, but insufficient end use monitoring prevents us from knowing if U.S. weapons were used in the commission of these abuses.

In Guatemala, according to the Washington Post, authorities used U.S.-supplied armored J-8 Jeeps to intimidate U.S. diplomats and international anti-corruption investigators in August 2018.  Just weeks later, the U.S. provided an additional shipment of similar jeeps to the Guatemalan government.  Just to repeat, Mr. President, our diplomats were threatened by the weapons that we ourselves provided.  This is far from the only threat American citizens and our partners face from American-made weapons.  Numerous investigations found that the dispersion of American-supplied arms in Iraq made up a significant portion of ISIS’ weapons supply in the country.

This legislation will help curb these dangerous practices by requiring Secretary of State to make human rights certifications for certain arms sales and transfers, specifically those involving heavy weapons capable of causing mass casualties or destruction, such as attack aircraft and missile launchers. The bill also requires the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, to develop a strategy to enhance human rights protections in the arms transfer process.  Since we know abuses can take place years after weapons have been transferred, the bill amends the Arms Control Export act to ensure stringent end use monitoring with regard to human rights.

America’s strength around the world is rooted in our values. Through this legislation, the Senate can send a strong message that the United States must not send U.S.-made arms to countries that abuse human rights, attack civilians, recruit child soldiers, or are unable to keep weapons out of the hands of extremist groups.  These common sense measures ensure that arms transfers take place in a responsible manner that safeguards our security and protects human rights.