05 March 2013

Drones in Yemen causing a ‘psychological emergency’, psychologist tells MPs


An expert in psychological trauma assessment and treatment has told MPs that the use of drones in Yemen is causing a ‘psychological emergency’ in the country.

Dr Peter Schaapveld, who has just returned from Yemen, today presented his evidence at a press conference following a week-long trip visiting communities and assessing victims who live under the constant terrorization of CIA drones.

The press conference was held in Parliament ahead of a meeting by the All Party Parliamentary Group on drones to discuss Dr Schaapveld's findings.

Dr Schaapveld said that of the 28 victims interviewed, approximately 99% had some type of traumatic disorder. The constant presence of drones means that residents are consistently re-traumatized and recovery is nigh on impossible.

At least six different towns in Yemen are the target of drone strikes, meaning that the unmanned aircraft are constantly flying overhead. One resident of al Bayda told Dr Schaapveld that drones fly over his village at an interval of every seven minutes, while a father from the Shabwa region reported that drones hover overhead ‘24/7’.

Drones are being used as part of the CIAs ‘counter-terrorism’ efforts in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The number of civilians reported killed in Yemen is thought to be between 12 and 46. In Pakistan it is thought to be up to 884 and in Somalia, up to 42.

The UK’s role in assisting with the US drone programme through intelligence sharing and logistical support is currently extremely secretive but is coming under increasing scrutiny through a number of legal challenges.

Dr Peter Schaapveld, said: “What I saw in Yemen was deeply disturbing. Entire communities – including young children who are the next generation of Yemenis - are being traumatised and re-traumatised by drones. Not only is this having truly awful immediate effects but the psychological damage done will outlast any counter programme and surely outweigh any possible benefits.”

Kat Craig, Legal Director at Reprieve who recently returned from Yemen said: “These findings represent further evidence that drones not only kill innocent civilians, but that their use amounts to a form of psychological torture and collective punishment. Children are afraid to go to school and adults are unable to work, socialise or function with any semblance of normality. As a result drones abjectly fail to achieve their purported purpose: instead of keeping us safe they breed animosity and tear apart the fabric of some of the poorest and disenfranchised communities in the world. A hellfire missile costs over $60,000 which could be spent building schools and wells. Yemen needs aid and our support, not drones.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. For more information please contact Clemency Wells in Reprieve's Press Office, on: +44 (0) 207 553 8161 / clemency [dot] wells [at] reprieve [dot] org [dot] uk
  2. For more information about Reprieve's work on drones, please see here.
  3. The full list of MPs who make up the APPG on drones can be found here.

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