Malala Yousafzai is helping to show us all that youth voices matter if we want a world where everyone's human rights are respected. When I heard about the recent comments she made to President Obama about drones, I knew it was time for me to speak up.
President Obama, I've got something to say about drones, too.
On Friday, Malala met with the President, and afterward released a statement that she expressed "concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people." Through my involvement with Amnesty International as a Student Activist Coordinator, I've also come to realize that when it comes to human rights, I've got some serious concerns about the US drone program. According to Senator Lindsey Graham, there have been almost 5,000 people killed by US drones in the last decade. We don't even know who most of them are.
Since I care about Malala's story, I can't help but care about the many other stories of young people speaking up for human rights, and of young people who are killed in places like Pakistan. I want to know who they are, too.
I want to know more about people like another 16-year old Pakistani named Tariq Aziz, whose story was featured in an Op Ed that ran in the New York Times a couple of years ago. According to the organization Reprieve, in October of 2011, Tariq attended a traditional Jirga, a meeting of community members to address and resolve conflict. This one was attended by about 60 people, and it was about US drone strikes. At the meeting, Tariq offered to travel to affected areas with a camera to document the aftermath of recent strikes. Many at the meeting warned him that his camera might attract the hostility of the Taliban.
They were right about attracting hostility, just wrong about the source of danger; just three days after the meeting, Tariq was driving with his cousin to meet his aunt in a neighboring village when he was killed by a Hellfire missile from a US drone. They were the only two casualties in the strike.
If we condemn the Taliban for targeting one young person for speaking up for human rights, can we at least raise questions about why two teens were killed by a drone strike by the US government? President Obama, will you listen to my voice, too?
We don't know why Tariq was killed, but we deserve to know. We need to know who he was, and also who the thousands of other victims of drone strikes are. I'm writing today to demand that President Obama release the names of all victims of drone strikes, and also to demand a full, transparent, and independent investigation into the many serious allegations of unlawful drone strikes.
We can't just wait in silence. None of us are neutral, and that's why I'm standing up for human rights now. We need answers before anyone else is killed, and every second counts right now.
In addition to what's happening in Pakistan, these last few months have seen a sharp escalation in drone strikes in Yemen, where according to media reports around 40 people were killed in August alone. This is only getting worse, and all we hear from our own government are half-truths and talking points. It's like the government is playing a game with peoples' lives, and we don't even know who lives and who dies.
This week, Amnesty's Game of Drones tour is headed to Madison, WI, and next week Amnesty is launching a report on drone strikes in Pakistan. Now is our time to speak up. I'm inspired by Malala's story, and I can be silent no longer. I hope you'll join me. It's time President Obama listened to us, too.
Adrienne Lowry is a student at James Madison University, and a Student Activist Coordinator for Amnesty International USA. Follow the Game of Drones tour on Tumblr at http://amnestygameofdrones.tumblr.com, and take action at http://amnestyusa.org/drones.
Photo: Flickr user Debra Sweet, creative commons licensed.