Stop killing my people with warplanes and drones, Yemeni human rights activist says


A Yemeni boy stands in front of a damaged house in the village of Bani Matar, a day after it was reportedly hit by an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition against Shiite Huthi rebel positions. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Baraa Shiban is a Yemeni human rights activist.

Today he writes in daily The Guardian in Britain:

US-backed airstrikes on Yemen kill civilians – and hopes for peace

America saw my country primarily through a counterterrorism lens, which was a mistake. Instead of fixing the problems, drone strikes only made them worse

You can’t bomb a country into existence, however much America seems determined to try.

In the last week, 164 Yemeni civilians have lost their lives in the Saudi bombardment of my country. In media reports – full of geopolitical talk of “proxy wars” and “regional interests” – the names of the dead are absent. As always, it is ordinary Yemeni families who are left grieving, and forgotten.

The US has a central role in all of this. As US officials told the Wall Street Journal, “American military planners are using live intelligence feeds from surveillance flights over Yemen to help Saudi Arabia decide what and where to bomb”.

Investigating US drone strikes on my country, I have seen the aftermath of aerial bombardment time and time again. The weeping father; the young girl unable to walk from shrapnel wounds; the mother, mute from shock. I try to record what has taken place; most of them just ask in return what my questions will do to bring back their loved ones. The few that find words express powerlessness and confusion as to why the might of a distant US military has been visited on their simple lives.

I represented the youth in Yemen’s revolution in 2011. I had never been particularly politically interested before the revolution, but those remarkable days changed my life forever, and I was proud to take my place in the process that was set up by the international community to guide my country to democracy. Over months of hard negotiation, we created the framework for Yemen’s new constitution.

Meanwhile, inexplicably, US drones continued to drop bombs on communities across the country . The blanket claims by the American government that these attacks were clinically picking off terrorists were patently untrue: I went to the attack sites, and met the bereaved relatives of builders, children, hitchhikers.

I know my country, and my fellow countrymen; the people I was meeting were simple souls, scraping a living in Yemen’s tough agricultural hinterland. Large political questions were far from their minds. When asked, they would all condemn the terrorist groups who had provided the pretext for the attacks.

We took reports of our investigations to President Hadi, and begged him to stop the attacks. They clearly destabilised all our genuine political efforts. Hadi would try and change the subject: he knew full well that the US economic support propping up our country was dependent on turning a blind eye to American counter-terrorism activities.

Even last week, as Saudi warplanes were refuelling to fly more sorties, anti-aircraft guns were barking over the capital, and President Hadi was fleeing the country, the White House Press Secretary was still trying to defend the so-called “Yemen model” of counterterrorism that was founded on these drone attacks. I listened to his words with incredulity, that he could so blindly ignore the evidence of his own eyes.

I understand that Yemen’s problems are complicated, and need time to resolve, but America’s desire to see my country primarily through a counterterrorism lens was a grave mistake. The National Dialogue was the forum for mending Yemen; US drone attacks consistently undermined our claim to be the sole, sovereign forum for Yemenis to resolve Yemeni disputes.

Truly concerning is President Obama’s belief that Yemen should act as some sort of model for other conflicts – notably the one being waged in Iraq and Syria. Reporters have already revealed Centcom’s efforts to cover up a drone strike in el-Bab in Syria in which 50 civilians died, as well as the botched attack on Kafr Daryan in which 12 more were killed.

When I read those reports, I am taken straight back to the awful drone attack sites I have visited in Yemen: 12 dead when a wedding convoy was hit in Yakla; a mother, father and young daughter all blown up together when a minibus was hit in al-Saboul.

The surest way to ensure America’s security isn’t bombing my countrymen and women; it’s to help countries build strong institutions, which doesn’t happen through the crosshairs of a drone feed. It’s been tried in Yemen. Please take our current pain as proof it won’t work anywhere else.

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