President Joe Biden's U-turn on ending US support for offensive operations in Yemen earlier this week with the resumption of arms sale to the UAE has been condemned as a "disastrous" move by Human Rights Watch.
Details of weapons deals worth $23 billion were announced on Tuesday by a State Department spokesperson. The contracts included as many as 50 F-35A fighters valued at $10.4 billion, 18 MQ-9B drones valued at $2.97 billion, and various munitions valued at $10 billion.
Denouncing the resumption, HRW said that the UAE has not changed its policy, pointing out that the Gulf state has continued to play a destabilising and belligerent role in Yemen and elsewhere in the region. "I am regularly overwhelmed by messages from people in southern Yemen telling me about egregious abuses regularly committed by UAE-backed local forces," said the rights group Yemen researcher, Afrah Nasser.
In February, Human Rights Watch also reported on the agonising detention of a Yemeni journalist who was first threatened by an official from the UAE and detained and mistreated by UAE-backed forces.
The rights group argued that there are no safeguards against the use of US weapons to commit war crimes. "The risk they could be used to commit laws-of-war violations is high, especially given the evidence that the Saudi and UAE-led coalition have already used US weapons in bombings unlawfully harming civilians and civilian sites in Yemen since the beginning of the war in 2015," said Nasser.
The UAE's violations is said to extend beyond Yemen. In Libya for example, the UAE has conducted unlawful strikes and provided military support to abusive local forces. HRW identified an apparently unlawful UAE drone attack that hit a biscuit factory in November 2019, killing eight civilians and wounding 27.
In late January, Biden temporarily suspended the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE so they could be reviewed following long-time calls by activists and rights groups for the US and other nations to cease arms deals with Saudi Arabia due to its poor human rights record, its assassination of dissidents, and its ongoing war in Yemen which began in 2015.