UN human rights leaders on Thursday called on the United States government to disclose whether it was responsible for drone strikes that killed 16 innocent civilians during two separate wedding processions in Yemen on December 12.
According to local security officials drone operators erroneously identified the victims as members of Al Qaeda.
The Guardian’s Amy Goodman wryly notes that “neither Obama nor any of his aides have explained just what kind of threat the wedding convoy presented to the American people.”
Meanwhile, Goodman also reports, the Yemeni government, per local custom, made reparations to the families of the deceased by “reportedly delivering 101 Kalashnikov rifles and a little over $100,000.”
Washington’s silence on the issue is especially conspicuous considering the American military operates all unmanned aircraft flying over Yemen.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez characterized the strikes as cruel and inhuman attacks against “illegitimate targets.” Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, called on the U.S. to disclose targeting standards and plans for compensating the victims’ families.
Heyns added that states must adhere to international humanitarian law in addition to providing a legal basis for the use of armed drones.
Although Yemen's parliament voted to ban the drones, experts say lawmakers have limited power and are “unlikely to impact Washington's campaign.”
Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and the headquarters of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the U.S. believes is the jihadist network's most lethal franchise. Yemen is one of a handful of countries where the U.S. acknowledges using drones, although it typically refrains from commenting on operations.
November figures compiled by the New America Foundation, a D.C.-based think tank, shows that the U.S. has launched 93 strikes in Yemen since 2002, killing between 684 to 891 people, including up to 66 civilians.
Last May President Obama delivered a speech at National Defense University (NDU) in which he said "before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set." But, six months after Obama laid out these rules, an analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism indicates that covert drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have killed more people than in the six months prior to his speech.
BIJ pegged the death toll from U.S. drone strikes over the past 12 years in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia at well over 4,000.