‘Drone Attacks Are International Law Crimes’

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An Islamabad-based human rights charity called on Wednesday on Pakistan’s Government to demand the adoption of a UN resolution requiring that the USA stops carrying out drone strikes in its country.

In a letter to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) demands that the Pakistani government formally take up the issue of illegal CIA drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal areas that have killed hundreds of innocent civilians.

The call follows President Barack Obama’s admission on Monday that the US is responsible for drone strikes in Pakistan.

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, Director of FFR, a legal charity that seeks justice for civilian victims of drone attacks, explains in his letter that, ‘These strikes are counter-productive, breach Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty, and alienate the Pakistani public by killing innocent civilians.’

He also highlights the case of Tariq Aziz, the 16-year-old Pakistani who participated in the Grand Waziristan Jirga held in Islamabad in October 2011, where tribal elders unanimously passed a resolution condemning US drone strikes. 

Tragically, a few days after the jirga, Tariq’s car was struck by a missile from a US-operated drone and he and his 12-year-old cousin Waheed Rehman were killed.

Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari have both spoken out against the drone strikes. 

More than four months ago, the Prime Minister’s Human Right’s Advisor, Mustafa Khokhar, said that the government was planning to raise the issue with the United Nations but there has been no movement since that time. 

FFR insists on six courses of action that the Prime Minister and President must take:

1. Confirm the Pakistani government’s complete opposition to US drone strikes in the tribal areas as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty under Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter.

2. Approach the United Nations Security Council and demand adoption of a resolution condemning drone strikes and requiring the US to end the strikes in Pakistan.

3. Issue a formal complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and with the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions as the fundamental right to life is being breached by US drone strikes. 

4. Publicly encourage victims of drone attacks to file complaints to the UNHRC so that the UN Secretary General can list this issue on the Council agenda for discussion. 

5. Notify the US government of Pakistan’s intention to seek relief in the International Court of Justice for the US’s illegal operation of drones in Pakistan.

6. Sign the Rome Treaty so that the International Criminal Court can have jurisdiction to prosecute the drone attacks as international law crimes.

FFR has given the Prime Minister and President 14 days to respond; failure to do so will result in immediate legal action against the government in the superior courts. 

The demand has also been forwarded to the opposition leader and other heads of political parties in Pakistan.

• President Obama’s revelations on Monday about the use of drones against Pakistan were unusual for their candour.

He said the strikes targeted ‘people who are on a list of active terrorists’.

The New America Foundation estimates that there were 118 drone attacks in 2010 and 70 in 2011.

Drone use began under George W Bush in 2004 but their use has been racked up under Obama, and they are now being used in Somalia and Yemen.

They have killed hundreds, some of whom may have been Al Qaeda or Taliban, but the number of civilians goes uncounted, with reporters not allowed in to the tribal areas where the drones attack.

The casualties in these attacks will no doubt continue to be classified as ‘suspected militants’.

Locals have taken photos showing damage and the dead as a result of the attacks. Rights groups such as Amnesty have been critical of the attacks and questioned their legality under International Law.

In one incident last March at least 40 people were killed in North Waziristan, local officials said. Most were civilians attending a tribal meeting.

Pakistan publicly says drone raids violate its sovereignty and public outrage at them is massive.

Obama made his comments during an hour-long video ‘hangout’ on Google’s social network, Google+. It was also streamed live on YouTube.

In the course of it Obama said, ‘a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA’ (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

Strikes target ‘al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan’.

He justified their use economically: ‘For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we’re already engaging in.’

In a statement guaranteed to enrage, Obama said drones had ‘not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’, adding that it was ‘important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash’.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, Abdul Basit, responded to Obama, saying: ‘Our position on drone strikes is clear and based on principles.

‘Drone attacks are unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable. We cannot condone violation of our sovereignty.’

Amnesty International, the human rights group, also issued a statement responding to Obama’s appearance, demanding that the USA disclose details of the legal and factual basis for the lethal use of drones in Pakistan.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, said on Tuesday:

‘The US authorities must give a detailed explanation of how these strikes are lawful and what is being done to monitor civilian casualties and ensure proper accountability.

‘What are the rules of engagement? What proper legal justification exists for these attacks? While the President’s confirmation of the use of drones in Pakistan is a welcome first step towards transparency, these and other questions need to be answered.’

US Attorney General Eric Holder will reportedly reference US legal arguments in support of such killings by drone attacks in a speech on national security in the coming weeks.

Sam Zarifi added:

‘The US administration must use the occasion of Attorney General Holder’s speech to disclose the relevant legal and factual documentation necessary for a meaningful assessment of the lawfulness of the deliberate killings it is carrying out – simply trying to find another way to say “trust us, it’s legal” will not be good enough.’

Past justifications offered by US officials have invoked legal theories based on a ‘global war’ between the USA and Al Qaeda, a concept which is not recognised by international humanitarian or human rights law, Amnesty wrote.