(Washington, DC) – The US government should credibly investigate the raid on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in central Yemen in late January 2017, that killed at least 14 civilians, including nine children, and make its findings public, Human Rights Watch said today.
Civilians got killed here. Fighters… were defending their homes. … Nine kids got killed. We don’t want any compensation. We want justice and the perpetrators to be held to account. We want to know what our government’s position is on what happened.
Nasser’s father, Abdullah, said that his son had gone to visit family members in the Yakla area during the midterm school holiday:
Nasser was very smart, and he was special to me. He was my friend, despite being young, and I trusted his decisions. … The American raid killed my son, a student in the eighth grade. … There needs to be accountability for those who carried out this crime before American courts.
The raid followed an increase in US military operations against AQAP in 2016, when the US conducted at least 33 drone strikes against alleged AQAP targets and deployed a small number of special operations forces to Yemen to assist the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) efforts against the armed group. The UAE has provided training, funding, and direction to Yemeni security forces that are carrying out operations against AQAP, and, the New York Times reported, provided support for the al-Bayda raid.
A week after the raid, a senior Yemeni official told Reuters that his government had expressed concerns to the US and requested “more coordination with Yemeni authorities before any operation and that there needs to be consideration for our sovereignty.”
Under the laws of war applicable in Yemen, warring parties must take constant care to spare the civilian population and civilian objects from the effects of hostilities. They are required to take precautionary measures with a view to avoiding, and in any event minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects. Warring parties also should take steps to minimize harm to civilians. These include avoiding locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas and trying to remove civilians from the vicinity of military objectives.
Warring parties are obligated to provide redress for the loss or injury caused by a violation of the laws of war. In recent years, US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have offered public expressions of regret and provided “condolence payments” to civilian victims of attacks without reference to fault, recognizing that mishandling a strike’s aftermath can exacerbate animosity over casualties. Although these civilian compensation systems are imperfect, they provide concrete assistance and some measure of emotional redress.
“As the civilian toll of the al-Bayda raid comes to light, it is increasingly clear that a thorough investigation is needed so that measures can be adopted to avoid such civilian losses in the future,” Houry said. “If the US can’t do that impartially and transparently, they should ensure that an independent inquiry can be carried out.”