Experts fear US arms sales to human rights abusers will become easier thanks to a 'loophole' in Trump's new policy

  • The Trump administration’s new Conventional Arms Transfer policy will make it easier for US companies to sell weapons to countries that commit human rights abuses, The Intercept reported.
  • A one-word change in the policy, prohibiting weapons sales to governments that “intentionally” kill civilians, could create what The Intercept called a “loophole.”
  • “Depending on how this policy is implemented, this focus could make it harder for those in the U.S. government [with] legitimate human rights concerns to block or modify some proposed U.S. arms sales,” Colby Goodman, an arms sales researcher and director of the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy told The Intercept

Arms control experts have voiced concerns over possible loopholes in President Trump’s new arms export policy, which they argue may make it easier for US companies to sell weapon to governments that violate human rights, The Intercept reported.

In April the Trump Administration issued its new Conventional Arms Transfer policy. The new rules were criticised by human rights groups and arms control advocates, including Amnesty International and the Arms Control Association, for prioritising a relaxed arms sales regime over transparency and human rights.

The White House said it would “advocate strongly on behalf of United States companies.” The Intercept reported.

The policy change could ease the path of arms transfers from the United States to, in particular, its two largest weapons customers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both are pursuing an ongoing bombing campaign in Yemen which has so far killed over 5,000 civilians.

The loophole could be created by a one-word change from Obama’s Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, issued in 2014. The old policy prohibited arms transfers to countries that commit “attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians,” whereas the Trump administration’s new policy bars transfers that are “intentionally” directed against civilian objects or civilians.

A two-month consultation period followed the release of the new policy in April, which ended last month. On Monday the State-department published a statement that said the policy would energise a “whole-of-government effort to expedite transfers that support [the administration’s] essential foreign policy and national security objectives.”

Colby Goodman, an arms sales researcher and director of the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy told The Intercept that arms groups had objected to the word “intentional,” but no changes had been made.

“Depending on how this policy is implemented, this focus could make it harder for those in the U.S. government [with] legitimate human rights concerns to block or modify some proposed U.S. arms sales,” he said.

The current administration’s new wording could help the US sell arms to countries that repeatedly kill civilians, by relying on the argument that the civilian casualties are unintentional.

One Trump aide, speaking in April on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the Trump adminstration has been aiming to reduce human rights restrictions which have led to a “veto” over some arms deals.

Despite concerns from Amnesty International and other groups over the new policy, the Obama administration also supported arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, selling $US20 billion worth of weapons in the face of opposition from human rights groups and under the pretext that civilian casualties in Yemen were unintentional.

“Those hoping this administration might learn lessons from the past about how U.S. weapons ended up being misused, or show proper restraint in sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have nothing to cheer in the new policy or its implementation plan to date,” Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association told The Intercept.

NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.