June 25, 2024

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EXCLUSIVE: Officials say arms sales under Biden will be subject to a more rigorous human rights review

EXCLUSIVE: Officials say arms sales under Biden will be subject to a more rigorous human rights review

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration will on Thursday unveil a long-awaited overhaul of arms export policy with an increased focus on human rights, three U.S. State Department officials told Reuters. .

CAT policy covers security assistance review, intergovernmental arms transfers, and authorized commercial sales of U.S.-origin military equipment and services that are overseen by the Department of State as well as the Department of Defense and Department of Commerce, including firearms commonly available in the United States. United State.

Defense firms and activists scrutinize such policies for insight into the administration’s position as they balance the commercial interests of issuers such as Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) and Raytheon Technologies (RTX.N) against the country’s stated commitment to human rights.

One of the changes, the officials said, is how the anti-torture policy addresses the potential for weapons from the United States to be used to commit serious human rights abuses.

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Under the new policy, arms transfers will not be approved if the State Department assesses that the weapons are “most likely” to be used to commit or facilitate the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions, or serious violations of international law. .

Previous CAT policy had said such transfers would only be permitted if Washington had “actual knowledge” that the weapons would be used in such actions.

“We are looking at a preventive policy when there is a risk of human rights being violated,” said one of the officials.

Officials declined to say which countries the new policy might affect.

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In the past, advocates have questioned arms sales to countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over civilian casualties in the war in Yemen.

The change could also affect exports of small arms such as assault rifles and surveillance equipment that police or paramilitary forces can use against the local population. Part of this is sponsored by the Department of Commerce.

Reuters reported in 2021 that the Biden administration was considering such a shift. The official unveiling has been delayed by factors including the turbulent withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in August 2021 and the war in Ukraine that began a year ago.

It is also linked to the National Security Strategy launched by the Biden administration in October.

The United States is by far the largest arms dealer in the world, selling over $100 billion in weapons, services, and training annually.

Members of Congress often raise concerns about their rights when opposing arms transfers. For example, Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposes the sale of the Lockheed Martin F-16 to Turkey in part due to disregard for human rights.

In 2016, Washington halted the planned sale of about 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippine National Police force after Senator Ben Cardin, then the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he would oppose it given his concerns about human rights abuses during the government’s tenure. The country’s then president, Rodrigo Duterte.

The new policy is a departure from that adopted in 2018 by the administration of former Republican President Donald Trump, who viewed arms deals as a way to generate jobs in the United States and controversially ignored the precedent of congressional review of major arms deals to push through a massive operation. Selling smart bombs and other weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle), Additional reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by Chris Sanders and David Gregorio

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