June 13, 2019

Cardin Statement on Ensuring Responsibility and Respect for Human Rights in Arms Sales

WASHINGTON  U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) released the following statement on his votes on the motions to discharge Senate Joint Resolutions 20 and 26, which sought to block the sales of certain weapons to Bahrain and Qatar respectively.

"As many of you know, I have long been a champion of a United States foreign policy driven by our values and respect for human rights.  This applies to our foreign military support and arms sales.  We must ensure that our military might and weapons only go to support partners and allies who uphold our values.  We have both a moral and a national security obligation to ensure that U.S. weapons, equipment, and training are never used to harm civilians, abuse human rights, or end up in the hands of enemies who seek to do us harm.

"With that in mind, I was pleased to lead the Enhancing Human Rights in Arms Sales Act of 2019 with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle.  This bipartisan legislation would put into place strict vetting criteria and end use monitoring for certain weapons sales to prevent U.S.-provided weapons from going to governments who commit human rights abuses and war crimes.  I urge all of my colleagues to support this important and necessary legislation.

"Until my bill is enacted into law and its critical safeguards are in place, it is incumbent upon Congress to evaluate each arms sale with important considerations for civilian security and human rights. 

"I have carefully examined both of the sales before us today, and applied the same criteria outlined in the Enhancing Human Rights in Arms Sales Act.

"Through this lens, I was compelled to vote in favor of discharging S.J.Res.20, so the Senate could debate the pending sale of various bombs and precision-guided munitions to Bahrain.  Domestically, Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior police forces were responsible for the repression of the 2011 uprising, and well over 100 Bahrainis have been killed in the course of repressing the Shia-led unrest.  In the Yemen conflict, the Bahrain Air Force is participating in Saudi-led coalition air strikes that have led to civilian casualties.  This pending sale would in fact provide munitions for Bahrain’s F-16 aircraft, which would almost certainly be used in Yemen.  We know this because Air Vice Marshall Hamad bin Abdullah al Khalifah, head of the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF), stated in February 2019 that Royal Bahraini Air Force F-16s had conducted over 3,500 sorties, or combat aircraft flights, since the beginning of the campaign in March 2015.  With 3,500 sorties in Yemen, we have to assume that Bahrain is responsible for some of the civilian deaths caused by the coalition air strikes in Yemen.   I have repeatedly voiced my opposition to U.S. support for the war in Yemen and we cannot risk our weapons leading to further repression in Bahrain itself.  I cannot support the sale of U.S. weapons to Bahrain at this time.

"The case of the pending sales to Qatar is quite different.  There is no doubt that Qatar has significant human rights challenges, particularly with respect to its labor practices. That said, I have not seen any evidence of the Qatari government using arms against its people.  Moreover,   Qatar’s involvement in the Yemeni war was limited to primarily defending the Saudi border from the Houthis, not conducting air strikes in Yemen. The Qataris left the Saudi-led coalition entirely two years ago.  Qatar has proven itself an important and responsible partner for the United States.  The Qatar Air Force flew strikes, alongside the U.S. and other partners, against the Islamic State in Syria in 2014 and 2015. It also flew strikes against Qadhafi in Libya in 2011, but again this was in concert with international partners including the United States.  In light of these factors, I voted against discharging S.JRes.26. 

"While both discharge motions failed, this issue will not go away, because one thing that we all can agree on is that no U.S arms should ever be linked to the deaths of innocent civilians. No U.S. arms should ever be used to intimidate and destroy the defenseless. No U.S. arms should ever end up in the hands a child soldier, or a terrorist. We may disagree on policy, but our values will always bridge the partisan divide. That is why Congress and the Administration must take a more holistic look at this issue. My bipartisan bill, the Enhancing Human Rights in Arms Sales Act of 2019, offers a comprehensive approach and I urge my colleagues to support its passage.

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