The 71 to 27 vote killed a bipartisan effort led by Republican Sen Rand Paul and Democratic Sen Chris Murphy that would have stopped the deal, announced by the Pentagon on 9 August. If the sale goes through, Saudi Arabia would receive more than 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armoured recovery vehicles, and other military equipment, Reuters reported.
The announcement comes after US-backed Saudi coalition bombed a children’s school, a Doctors Without Borders hospital, and destroyed a bridge humanitarian aid groups to bring supplies into Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.
Mr Murphy rebuked the Riyadh government for their role in human rights violations against Yemen. He also noted Saudi Arabia’s apparent role in fueling radical Islamism through its support for a conservative form of the Muslim faith.
“If you’re serious about stopping the flow of extremist recruiting across this globe, then you have to be serious at the … brand of Islam that is spread by Saudi Arabia all over the world, is part of the problem,” Mr Murphy said before Wednesday’s vote.
Saudi Arabia has been a source of particular concern for US government officials following the release of previously classified documents, which were believed to disclose the Saudi government's possible role in funding a number of the 9/11 hijackers. Saudi officials denied such allegations, and said the declassified documents were proof of their non-involvement.
Congress is expected to back a bill that would allow the families of 9/11 victims and first responders to file a lawsuit against the Saudi government – a bill that President Barack Obama has promised to veto if it passes.
But Congress may overrule the veto with a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
The 18-month-long war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people – many of whom are civilians – and displaced millions.
Nonetheless, the 71 backers of the billion-dollar funding to the country believe that the US should stand with the longtime ally.
“This motion comes at a singularly unfortunate time and would serve to convince Saudi Arabia and all other observers that the United States does not live up to its commitments,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Despite their defeat, supporters of the bill saw the vote as a wake up call for Saudi Arabia.
“The very fact that we are voting on it today sends a very important message to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia that we are watching your actions closely,” said Minnesota Sen Al Franken, “and that the United States is not going to turn a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of men, women, and children."