"Drones War in Yemen": Report presented to UN experts

Mohammed Al-Ahmady, Alkarama's representative in YemenAlkarama and Hood presented a report containing information on ten U.S. air strikes in Yemen between 2009 and 2013 to two UN experts.

On 24 January 2013, UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism Ben Emmerson, launched an inquiry "into the civilian impact, and human rights implications of the use drones and other forms of targeted killing for the purpose of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency" in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and the OPT. The investigation, carried out by ten UN experts, including Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Christof Heyns, aims at "determining whether there is a plausible allegation of unlawful killing" in those cases where individuals are killed by drone strikes. The results of these inquiries will be presented at UN General Assembly's next session in October 2013.

Alkarama and Hood presented a report containing detailed information on ten targeted strikes committed by the U.S. air force in Yemen between 17 December 2012 and 17 April 2013 in six different provinces to Ben Emmerson and Christof Heyns. This first report is part of a project which aims to document these extrajudicial killings and calls on the U.S. and Yemeni authorities to open independent investigations into these events and hold perpetrators accountable.

From the first air strike in November 2002 until the month of May 2013, there have been between 134 and 226 U.S. military operations in Yemen, including strikes by aircraft, drone missiles, or attacks launched from warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden. The number of deaths due to these targeted killings is estimated at 1150.

Last 23 May, U.S. president Barack Obama said that the objective of these targeted air strikes was not to "punish individuals" but to "act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people". However, not only is the definition of 'terrorist' or 'combatant' problematic but these high-profile targets in fact only represent 2% of the individuals who have died because of these 'targeted' air strikes. As for these 'terrorists', the charges of which they are accused remain undisclosed. Obama has also said that the death of civilians is "a risk that exists in every war".

"America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists; our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute", added Obama. However, in the majority of the lethal air strikes investigated by Alkarama, the capture of the targets would have been possible.

Although the U.S. President seemed to advocate for more transparency in the U.S.'s counter terrorism strategy in his speech, the legal basis and the chain of command for these strikes has yet to be disclosed publicly.


The ten U.S. air strikes in Yemen documented in our report are:

- Al-Maajala (Abyan), 17 December 2009

- Jaber Al-Shabwani (Marib), 24 May 2010

- Azzan (Shabwa), 30 March 2012

- Ja'ar (Abyan), 15 May 2012

- Khashamir (Hadramout), 29 August 2012

- Radaa (Al-Baydha), 2 September 2012

- Al-Shihr (Hadramout), 24 December 2012

- Al-Shihr (Hadramout), 28 December 2012

- Khawlan (Sanaa), 23 January 2013

- Wusab, 17 April 2013


For more information, please contact :

Karim Sayad, Regional Legal Officer, Gulf Region, karim@alkarama.org, +41 22 734 10 06 (English, French, Arabic) 

Mohamed Al-Ahmady, Alkarama's Representative in Yemen,  ahmady@alkarama.org,  +967 777 56 75 74 (Arabic)