Between July and September 2014, Alkarama* conducted a survey to understand the presence of trauma on a sample of individuals living in Yemen, in areas where drone operations are being carried out by the United States (hereinafter “U.S.”). The study was aimed at evaluating the prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (hereinafter “PTSD”) symptoms among civilians. After screening more than 100 individuals, men and women, boys and girls, we found strong common patterns of anxiety, stress, paranoia, insomnia and other trauma symptoms across gender and age. The specificity of the study is that it incorporates both individuals who have lost a direct family member to a drone attack and individuals who have not but still live under drones. We found that these two groups are exhibiting similar symptoms and are suffering from severe stress. We concluded that the simple fact of living under drones has psychological consequences that derive from the constant fear of being killed or having a relative being killed.
The study also brings to the fore the legal shortcomings and implications that surround the operation of drones in Yemen. While the application of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and Human Rights Law with regard to drone operations continues to be debated within the international community, what we call a “legal black-hole” has instead come to dominate aspects of regulation, accountability and retribution. This scenario is but exacerbated by the peculiar nature of the drone technology that is yet to be engaged with adequately in legal as well as ethical terms and serves to facilitate trauma among civilians. We hence stress on the importance of addressing the implications of drone attacks through all possible legal instruments by discussing international and national legal frameworks in this context.
With this study, our aim is to reduce the gap between the abstraction of a military personnel sitting behind a screen triggering the strike and the overwhelming as well as constant mental suffering of civilians on the ground. This study is thus a testimony to the presence of a direct causal link between the one powerful side and the other. It is fundamentally an attempt to highlight – to the international community, of which the U.S. is an integral part – that drone operations have direct consequences on Yemeni civilians, particularly on their mental integrity; that the suffering involved amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment; and that the current U.S. drone operations in Yemen hence amount to a gross violation of Yemeni civilians’ basic human rights.
*Alkarama is a Swiss-based, independent human rights organisation
established in 2004 to assist all those in the Arab World subjected
to, or at risk of, extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and
arbitrary detention. Acting as a bridge between individual victims in
the Arab world and international human rights mechanisms, Alkarama
works towards an Arab world where all individuals live free, in dignity
and protected by the rule of law. In Arabic, Alkarama means dignity.
Full report at this link.