Last week John met with a delegation from the Government of Yemen, including Hooria Mashhour, Minister of Human Rights, former Deputy of the Women National Committee and Mohamed al-Mikhlafi, Minister of Legal Affairs, Founder and Former Chair of al-Marsad ( Human Rights Observatory) Organization. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the role of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Human Rights. Below is an essay, reproduced with permission, by the Yemeni Minister of Human Rights, Hooria Mashhour, on drone strikes affecting her country.
The Wounded Goat
By Hooria Mashhour (Minister of Human Rights, Yemen)
The word ‘Altais’ has several meanings in Arabic. It is a star in the constellation Draco, but it also means male goat. It is quite common in the Arab world to come across animal names attributed to humans, especially the ones that represent power, endurance, intelligence, and beauty for example Assad (Lion), Namer (Tiger), Fahd (Panther), and Gahzal (Gazelle).
Recently, I met Naif Altaisi. When I asked his age he said he didn’t know, but his brother estimates that it is around 25 years old. He looks like many other young men in Yemen. His clothes are old and his hair is messy. He has just got out of a long and expensive stay in hospital; one that is far from over. He was there because of a US drone strike that hit a wedding convoy in Rad’a in the South of Yemen last December.
His poor family had to take him out of hospital because of mounting debts that have crippled them. Somehow they need to find the money to send Naif to a different country for further treatment because the hospitals in Yemen can no longer help him with the piece of shrapnel that is lodged in his eye socket. According to his medical report his doctors fear that his other eye may be affected. However, their biggest fear is that the shrapnel will cause an infection in his brain that will eventually kill him.
To add to his misery, Naif’s left leg is still in the cast that has dried around the rods coming out of it. As a result he won’t be able to do his job as a sheepherder – his only source of income.
Naif didn’t know who I am or what I do when I went to visit him along with a big group of members from the National Dialogue Conference, including the head of the transitional justice team, and many more influential people some of whom were doctors. He didn’t recognize me mainly because he doesn’t own a phone or watch the news or follow politicians and politics. He has always lived a simple life alongside his family. His youngest child was born just a couple of days before my visit. Naif managed a small herd of goats that barely covered the basic needs of living for his big family. His children are all far too young to take over the work from their father.
Naif gave me a stare that was full of blame because I represent the government, and the government has failed to provide him with medical care. And when I said that the country was struggling with the fight against terrorism and all should stand firmly in its face to avoid horrendous acts like the one that hit the Ministry of Defense he replied: “If I know any terrorists I will instantly report them. I am an illiterate villager and I have no affiliation whatsoever with terrorists, my only crime is that I went to the city to attend my relative’s wedding ceremony”. When I asked about his demands from the government he said: “I want medical treatment and for drone strikes to stop because they have killed many and left many wounded like me”.
I couldn’t bear the looks and screams, not only from him, but also from the tens of people who have suffered from similar misfortunes. A day after I met him I was at the 25th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva therefore I used this platform to echo the cries of Yemenis in demanding a stop to unmanned armed drones because the Yemeni people have made it overwhelmingly clear that this is what they want. I believe it is my duty as Human Rights Minister and the duty of our government to offer justice, compensation, and apologies to those poor simple Yemeni villagers.
The Yemeni parliament has expressed its objection to drones as did the European Union Parliament just last month. Pakistan currently has a draft resolution under negotiation in the Human Rights Council and I am confident that it will be met with acceptance from the member and observer countries. I hope – and predict – that this will create an increase in support for this matter in the American Congress, Human Rights organizations in the free world, and from many different countries.
We are committed to fighting terrorism. But we need not – rather, we must not – in the process destroy the lives of innocent Yemenis just trying to get on with their daily lives; people like Naif Altaisi.