In what could be termed a major boost for Pakistan’s opposition to drone strikes in country, international human rights watchdog Amnesty International Tuesday said the new evidence indicates that United States has carried out unlawful killings in Pakistan’s tribal areas through drone attacks, some of which could even amount to war crimes.
Islamabad, Oct 22/Nationalturk – The international human rights watchdog Amnesty International Tuesday said the new evidence indicates that United States has carried out unlawful killings in Pakistan through drone attacks, some of which could even amount to war crimes.
In its report, “’Will I be next?’ US drone strikes in Pakistan”, released today, Amnesty has conducted comprehensive study of US drone program from a human rights perspective.
It documents recent killings in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas and almost complete absence of transparency around the US drone program.
“Secrecy surrounding drones program gives US administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law. It is time for US to come clean about the drones program and hold those responsible for these violations to account,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher.
He said what hope for redress can there be for victims of drone attacks and their families when the US won’t even acknowledge its responsibility for particular strikes.
Amnesty reviewed 45 drone attacks from Jan 2012 to Aug 2013
In the report, which was released in a joint news conference with Human Rights Watch, which issued its own report on drone and other air strikes in Yemen, Amnesty reviewed 45 drone strikes that took place in North Waziristan in Pakistan between January 2012 and August 2013.
It conducted detailed field research into nine of these strikes, with the report documenting killings, which raise serious questions about violations of international law that could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions.
The report says in October 2012, 68-year-old grandmother Mamana Bibi was killed in a double strike, apparently by a Hellfire missile, as she picked vegetables in family’s fields while surrounded by a handful of her grandchildren. “Similarly, in July 2012, 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in multiple strikes on a impoverished village close to the border with Afghanistan as they were about to enjoy an evening meal at the end of a long day of work.”
Washington says they are an important and effective tool in the fight against militants liked to the Taliban and al-Qaida, who have strongholds in the tribal areas. But critics say hundreds of innocent civilians have died in the strikes.
However the report stated that Amnesty’s research indicates that the victims of the attacks were not involved in fighting and posed no threat to life, contrary to official claims that those killed were “terrorists”.
‘No justification for killings’
“We cannot find any justification for these killings. There are genuine threats to US and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of labourers, or an elderly woman surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the US,” said Qadri.
Amnesty said international law prohibits arbitrary killing and limits the lawful use of intentional lethal force to exceptional situations. “In armed conflict, only combatants and people directly participating in hostilities may be directly targeted. Outside armed conflict, intentional lethal force is lawful only when strictly unavoidable to protect against an imminent threat to life . In some circumstances arbitrary killing can amount to a war crime or extrajudicial execution, which are crimes under international law.”
The report said the secrecy on drone strikes has enabled US to act with impunity and block victims from receiving justice or compensation.
As far as Amnesty International is aware, no US official has ever been held to account for unlawful killings by drones in Pakistan.
‘US drone program has added to local suffering’
“The US drone program has added to local suffering, with people in the region now also living in terror of death from US drones hovering in the skies day and night. The tragedy is that drone aircraft deployed by the US over Pakistan now instill the same kind of fear in the people of the tribal areas that was once associated only with al-Qa’ida and the Taliban,” said Qadri.
As the report documents, local men and women have little control over the presence of groups like the Taliban and al-Qa’ida in their villages and districts.
While Pakistan government maintains it opposes the US drone program, Amnesty International is concerned that some officials and institutions in Pakistan and in other countries including Australia, Germany and the UK may be assisting the USA to carry out drone strikes that constitute human rights violations.
“Pakistan must provide access to justice and other remedies for victims of drone strikes. The authorities of Pakistan, Australia, Germany and the UK must also investigate all officials and institutions suspected of involvement in US drone strikes or other abuses in the tribal areas that may constitute human rights violations,” added Qadri.
‘US should disclose facts, legal basis for drone strikes’
Amnesty called on US to publicly disclose facts and legal basis for drone strikes carried out in Pakistan and information about any investigation into killings by US drones. “US should ensure prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that drone strikes resulted in unlawful killings”.
The international human rights watchdog also demanded that US should bring those responsible for unlawful drone strikes to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty. “The victims of unlawful drone strikes, including family members of victims of unlawful killings, should have effective access to justice, compensation and other remedies.”
“The international community should oppose US drone strikes and other killings that violate international law and urge the US and Pakistan to take the measures outlined above. States should officially protest and pursue remedies under international law when lethal force is unlawfully used by the USA or other states,” Amnesty added and urged nations not to participate or assist any way in US drone strikes that violate international law, including by sharing intelligence or facilities.
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Faiz Ahmad / NationalTurk Pakistan News
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