They are the family, friends, and loved ones left behind after covert U.S. drone strikes kill Yemeni people. And now, they are launching a union of the bereaved to help each other heal from the psychological trauma and economic hardship that survivors face, investigate the real impacts of the secretive strikes, and organize to end their government's complicity in the U.S. government's war.
“I founded the National Organization for Drone Victims in memory of my brother Ali because it was clear that the voices of victims of the US drone program in Yemen need to be heard and the affected communities need support," said Mohammad al-Qawli, an adviser to the Ministry of Education, in a statement announcing the union's Tuesday launch. "There is so much misinformation spread about these attacks and almost no notice paid to the lasting, devastating affect they have on communities throughout Yemen."
The first group of its kind in Yemen, the NODV includes survivors of a December 2013 U.S. drone strike on a recent wedding procession in Yemen near the city of Rad’a that left 12 people dead and at least 15 wounded. Faisal Ali Bin Jaber, who lost his nephew and brother-in-law—an imam who preached against Al-Qaeda—in an August 2012 drone attack, is also numbered among the group's members.
This is an organization whose ranks are poised to grow amid evidence that the U.S. is intensifying its drone war in Yemen. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, up to 430 people have so far been killed by confirmed drone strikes in Yemen and up to 499 have been killed by possible drone strikes. Numbered among the dead are numerous civilians including children. While the full civilian death count is extremely difficult to obtain given the U.S. secrecy, numerous experts, eye witnesses, and survivors say it is high.
While there is a dearth of studies on the psychological harm and trauma this loss inflicts on survivors in Yemen, a 2012 joint Stanford and New York University study of "the aftermath of drone attacks in Pakistan" finds that the presence of drones "terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves."
According to a report released last month by UN special rapporteur on human rights Ben Emmerson, the U.S. appears to be shifting its covert drone war from Pakistan to Yemen. The reports reveals that Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi previously gave blanket support to these strikes. "[S]pecific drone strikes are not pre-approved, but instead such strikes are 'generally permitted' pursuant to an unwritten agreement concluded between the United States and former President Abdullah Saleh," according to Emmerson.
Al-Qawli expressed hope that "By bringing victims together we have the chance to uncover facts regarding the strikes and their consequences and work together towards ending the illegal use of drones in Yemen and preventing further bloodshed.”
Rooj al-Wazir, a Yemeni anti-drone organizer, told Common Dreams that organizing by affected communities is already forcing change on the national level. "Just a few things worth mentioning is that on the national level the National Dialogue Committee passed a resolution to criminalize all airstrikes in Yemen and Members of Parliament also voted to ban the use of drones," she said. "Both of those things, would have never happened had it not been for people organizing in their communities."
"The drone struggle," said al-Wazir, "is about every action by communities living under drones to resist the racist covert war." According to al-Wazir, "There has been a lot of interest in harnessing creative cultural resistance by people opposed to the drone war and many people have been using a wide diversity of methods, from spoken word to graffiti to photography and graphic arts."
"Real change comes through community organizing," she said. "This union is just the first step in their work towards justice, dignity and respect for life."