Report Spotlights Civilian Harm From US Drone Strikes in Yemen
Brett Wilkins / AntiWar.com
(March 25, 2021) — A report published Tuesday by Yemeni human rights defenders examines dozens of casualties resulting from US drone strikes and other attacks on civilians in the war-torn nation in recent years, incidents the publication says often occur without accountability, investigation, compensation — and sometimes even acknowledgment.
The report — entitled Death Falling From the Sky: Civilian Harm from the United States’ Use of Lethal Force in Yemen (pdf) — was published by Mwatana for Human Rights. It covers a dozen US military operations conducted between January 2017 and January 2019, a period during which then-President Donald Trump loosened the military’s rules of engagement that were meant to protect civilians.
“At least 38 Yemeni civilians, including 13 children, six women, and 19 men, were killed in these operations,” the report notes. “At least seven civilians, including six children, five of whom were under the age of 10, and one man, were injured.
Civilians were going about their everyday lives — driving to visit friends, bringing food to their families, sleeping in their homes — when killed or injured.”
“These US operations also caused other forms of deep and long-lasting civilian harm,” it continues. “The incidents led to adverse economic effects, killing primary breadwinners whose families relied on their incomes, and damaging and destroying important civilian property, including vehicles, homes, and livestock. The operations also caused significant social and psychological harm. In a few cases, surviving members of families left their homes following US operations, saying they felt unsafe and worried about future strikes.”
The 12 US attacks detailed in the report include 10 drone strikes and two ground raids in five Yemeni governorates — Abyan, Al Bayda, Shabwah, Hadramawt, and Ma’rib. In only one case did US officials acknowledge harming civilians.
The report “raises serious concerns about the extent to which the United States is complying with international law in its use of lethal force in Yemen.”
“The United States is failing to investigate credible allegations of violations, to hold individuals responsible for violations accountable, and to provide prompt and adequate reparation,” it states.
The report also reveals details about communications between US military officials. On January 25, 2017, for example, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emailed Gen. Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), to wish him “good hunting.”
Four days later, a US-led air and ground attack targeting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters in the Yakla area of Al Bayda governorate killed at least 15 civilians, including 10 children.
Among these was Nawar al-Awlaki, an 8-year-old US citizen who, according to her grandfather, “was hit with a bullet in her neck and suffered for two hours.” Nawar’s father, Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric, and her brother Abdulrahman al-Awlaki — both American citizens — were also killed in separate US drone strikes.
Barzan Mohammad Abdallah Mabkhout Al Amir, then 10 years old, was the only member of his immediate family to survive the Yakla attack.
“We were all asleep when we suddenly heard the shooting,” he told the report’s authors. “Our mother gathered us in one room to protect us. My grandfather was immediately killed after he left the house. The house collapsed and my mother, father, and siblings were all killed.”
After denying that the raid killed any civilians — standard US operating procedure — and calling the attack “very successful” despite the death of a Navy SEAL, American officials belatedly conceded that civilians including children were “likely killed.” CENTCOM, however, blamed AQAP for allegedly “hiding women and children within militant operating areas and terrorist camps.”
The Mwatana report notes that “regardless of which president or party controlled the White House, the United States has never fully investigated the civilian cost of its operations in Yemen, has never taken sufficient steps to review the efficacy of these operations, and has never provided civilian victims the acknowledgment, apology, and reparations they are owed.”
To remedy this, the report recommends US officials “abide by all applicable international law requirements” regarding the use of force in civilian areas; “robustly investigate” reports of civilian harm; acknowledge, apologize, and compensate when US forces kill or injure civilians; and cooperate with United Nations and other investigations.
These steps, the report says, “can go a long way towards disrupting cycles of violence.”
“For years, the US has contributed to fueling and furthering conflict in Yemen,” it states. “It is entirely possible to change course.”
American military operations in Yemen occur alongside the much larger — and deadlier — US-backed Saudi-led war against Houthi militants. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the nearly seven-year conflict — widely recognized as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — has directly or indirectly claimed at least 233,000 lives. Other UN agencies warned last month that more than two million Yemeni children under the age of five would likely suffer acute malnutrition this year and as many as 400,000 of them could die if not quickly given desperately needed treatment.
A report published Wednesday by the international charity Save the Children revealed that children made up around a quarter of the war’s casualties in the years 2018 to 2020.
“If the Biden administration were to adopt the recommendations outlined in this report, it would constitute a significant step towards transforming the United States’ relationship to Yemen,” it concludes. “In the end, the best approach the US can take towards Yemen is beginning to listen, heed, and support the many Yemenis already working to build a country that centers rights respect, peace, and justice.”
Yemeni Men Appeal US Drone Attack Case to Highest German Court
The Appeal Would Hold Germany Accountable for US Attacks Launched from German Soil
(March 25, 20210 — Two Yemeni men who allege their relatives were killed in an American drone attack have appealed their case to Germany’s highest court, urging a ban on the US military’s use of a base in the country to help control such attacks, their lawyers have said.
Two members of the bin Ali Jaber family, Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, were allegedly killed in a US drone attack in Khashamir, Yemen, in 2012, according to the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which filed the case on behalf of the family members, Ahmed and Khalid bin Ali Jaber, in the Federal Constitutional Court.
The attack has not been acknowledged by the United States, according to the organisation.
The ECCHR and the family have since sought to compel the German government to ban drone attacks involving the US Ramstein Air Base, located to the southwest of Frankfurt, arguing that Germany has a responsibility “to protect the bin Ali Jaber family from further” such attacks.
The appeal announced on Tuesday, which seeks to overturn a 2020 court ruling on the matter, argues that the court should have “obliged the German government to do more to protect the plaintiffs’ right to life”, according to an ECCHR statement.
For its part, the US military has said Ramstein is used to “conduct operational level planning, monitoring and assessment of assigned airpower missions throughout Europe and Africa”, but not to launch or operate drones involved in “counterterrorism activities”.
However, the appeal argues that “Ramstein’s significance for US drone attacks in Yemen is much greater than the court assumes”.
The appeal filed on Tuesday also the court did not “sufficiently assess” the extent of the allegation that the attacks violate international law.
“Germany must do more to protect the right to life of the Jaber family,” Andreas Schuller, head of ECCHR’s International Crimes and Accountability team, said in a statement.
“The danger posed by drone attacks via Ramstein has not been averted, which is why we are turning to the Federal Constitutional Court today.”
A Decades-long Legal Fight
In 2015, a lower court had determined that Germany had not failed to meet legal requirements related to the US drone attacks. However, in 2019, the Muenster administrative court ruled that the German government had partial responsibility to ensure that drone raids involving the Ramstein Air Base were carried out in line with international law.
In its ruling, the Muenster administrative court said available evidence suggested the base still played “a central role” for the relay of flight control data used for drone attacks in Yemen. The ruling, however, stopped short of calling for a complete ban on the attacks launched from the US base.
In a 2020 appeal, a federal court in Leipzig upheld the 2015 decision, ruling that German diplomatic outreach to the US over the attacks was sufficient, regardless of international law.
The ruling concluded that there was no direct link to Germany in the case and said the base’s relay of flight control data did not sufficiently establish its role in the raids.
It was not immediately clear when the Federal Constitutional Court would consider the latest appeal.
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