The last thing we need is to lose innocent life to bad intelligence, yet this is what is happening, says Yemens minister for human rights
On the bad days, I think my job must be one of the hardest in the world. My country, Yemen, is in the midst of civil war. My government is fighting two extremist groups: al-Qaida and the Houthis. As the minister of human rights, it is my responsibility to ensure that the fundamental rights of Yemenis, spelled out in our constitution, are protected.
The conflict has already claimed thousands of innocent lives, and I mourn each one, but some deaths are so senseless they stick in the memory. In the deadly struggle with al-Qaida, the last thing we need is to lose innocent life to bad intelligence, yet this is what is happening, again and again. Allow me to explain.
Four years ago, the Horaidan family were driven from their homes when Houthi rebels attacked their village. They fled to al-Jawf province, to a camp for internally displaced people. This is a government-controlled area, far from any frontline. In March of this year, eight members of the family, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed by missiles fired from American drones.
I do not make this accusation lightly. The Yemeni National Committee, the official body tasked with documenting abuses, employed a team of investigators to establish the facts of the missile strikes on 5 and 8 March. They interviewed locals and collected signed statements, categorically stating that none of the men killed had any ties to al-Qaida.
They took photographs of the wreckage, and recorded testimony on video. In one clip I was shown, Amer Horaidans teacher tells them what a good student Amer was. Again, he was 13 years old. The men killed were simple people: farmers and fathers. It is a tragedy that in seeking to escape one conflict, they became innocent victims of another their lives ended by a drone operator thousands of miles away.
The surviving members of the family are not seeking revenge; they just want answers and an apology. They want to know why their sons, husbands, fathers and brothers were killed, and they would like those responsible to admit their mistake. Transparency and accountability are crucial to showing the people of Yemen that our allies, such as the US, do not operate as Houthi forces or al-Qaida do.
The people in Yemen are weary of war and suffering. They aspire toward a democratic and safer country. For that reason, the rhetoric of al-Qaida does not appeal to them. We as a country are fully committed to defeating terrorism. However, the way to do so is to enhance and not undermine the rule of law. We need support from the US, UK and international community to help us achieve that.
The use of drones in Yemen is not making Yemen or the US safer. Rather, the huge increase in drone strikes last year, along with US president Donald Trumps reported decision to weaken safeguards aimed at protecting civilians, is wreaking havoc and sowing terror. In the last year alone, large numbers of civilians have lost their lives or been injured. Entire communities have experienced those losses, and have come to fear the US drones that hover overhead.
It is my belief that the best way to combat terrorism is to build a strong country: to invest in infrastructure and government institutions so that individuals suspected of involvement can be properly arrested and tried. Yemen is fully committed to the rule of law. Our youth proved that during the Arab spring when they peacefully fought for the very democratic principles drones too often undermine. While we may currently face challenges, we have created national mechanisms that promote accountability and aim to end impunity. We seek to lead by example, by giving people the due process terrorism seeks to undermine.
We are keen to cooperate with the US, UK and other western allies to tackle terrorism, both in Yemen and elsewhere. But our approach must reflect the ideals to which we all ascribe ideals that uphold the rule of law and promote human rights. Anything less, and the consequences will not just be the deaths of more innocents like Amer, but also a less safe world for all of us.
- Mohamed Askar is the Yemeni minister for human rights