For years, Saudi Arabia has been ranked among the world's worst human rights violators. In its 2017 human rights report on Saudi Arabia, the U.S. State Department pointed to the country's unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detention, political prisoners, human trafficking, and restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, movement and religion.
Last year, Aid to the Church in Need ranked Saudi Arabia as "extreme" in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has repeatedly named Saudi Arabia as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), a label that identifies foreign governments which engage in or tolerate "systemic, ongoing, and egregious" religious freedom violations.
Saudi Arabia is currently involved in what has become a nearly four-year proxy war in Yemen. The conflict began when the Shiite Muslim Houthi tribe took control of a key territory and chased the president from the capital city. Saudi Arabia and some Arab allies intervened on behalf of the opposing faction, while Iran has backed the Houthi rebels.
At least 6,500 civilians have been killed in the conflict, as have over 10,000 combatants. More than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes. The number of people facing pre-famine conditions could reach 14 million, the U.N. has estimated.
Mass starvation in Yemen is a possible threat, as a military engagement in the major port city of Hodeidah could block food and other humanitarian aid for millions of people. Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, has said that starvation is a weapon of war and the famine is "wholly man-made."
"Mass starvation is a deadly byproduct of actions taken by warring parties and the Western nations propping them up," Egeland said in an Oct. 15 statement.
The U.S. government is providing some forms of military support to Saudi Arabian forces in the conflict and U.S.-supplied weapons have been traced to incidents that have killed civilians. An Aug. 9 aerial bombing of a school bus killed dozens of children with a bomb manufactured by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, CNN reported.
Then-President Barack Obama had banned the sale of precision-guided military technology to Saudi Arabia, citing human rights concerns, but the Trump administration overturned the ban in March 2017.