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Head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, calls on French & British Governments to follow Biden lead

By John Zarocostas - The Geneva Observer

Thursday, February 18, 2021



Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, welcomed the initiative by the new US Biden administration on Thursday to curtail the sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia as a step in the right direction. Roth said Biden’s predecessor President Donald Trump “was a disaster in this respect, and he just viewed arms sales as jobs for US citizens.”

In a virtual news conference with the Geneva-based UN Correspondents Association (ACANU), Roth said, “Biden, fortunately, has taken a step in the right direction by announcing that he would stop US military support, and arms sales, for Saudi Arabia—with respect to offensive weapons, weapons that can be used to attack Yemen.” But he added that Biden is “leaving open the provision of defensive weapons” and one needs to watch closely how that line is drawn. However, Roth noted, Saudi Arabia “does face threats from the Houthis and Iran.”

Kennet Roth - File photo. © HRW

The HRW chief, while praising the Biden move as “an important first step,” was quick to highlight that Biden “has not yet applied similar standards with respect to the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—which of course has also been a key member of the Saudi-led coalition (in the war in Yemen).” He critically noted: “UAE forces on the ground have been responsible for torture and a wide range of abuses (and) for facilitating or worsening” the humanitarian disaster in Yemen. Roth also said the UAE, along with Egypt, are principle backers of General Haftar's forces in Eastern Libya—which themselves have been responsible for many serious atrocities. “We're happy to see this pushback,” Roth said, cautioning “but it is only a pushback.” The outspoken HRW head also put the spotlight on the role of France and the United Kingdom and faulted their arms sales to governments with poor human rights records. “The French and British governments, in particular, continue to be major sellers of weapons to these same governments, and the rationale there, is, they say, they want to have an independent arms industry—their militaries don't buy enough arms to sustain those industries—therefore, they need to sell arms abroad even to governments that are notorious for war crimes and atrocities.” That is, he said, “an immoral calculation” and added, “I hope the British and the French, in particular, can follow Biden's lead and start curtailing the sale of arms to these kinds of highly abusive forces.” On a related matter, on March 1 the UN is slated to host—along with the governments of Sweden and Switzerland—a virtual pledging conference to urgently raise aid funds for the world's worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The UN's emergency relief agency, OCHA, says that in 2020, aid agencies had to work with about half the amount of money they had in 2019 (US$1.9 billion last year compared to $3.6 billion the year before, “when the generosity of donors helped stave off a famine.”) At the high-level pledging event for Yemen in 2020, co-hosted by the UN and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on June 2, US$1.35 billion was pledged. More than 96 percent of this has been disbursed, OCHA says.

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