Drones: Major new report says USA must account for Pakistan killings

The USA has carried out unlawful killings in Pakistan in its drone attacks, some of which could amount to war crimes, Amnesty International.

The report 'Will I be next?’ US drone strikes in Pakistan', one of the most comprehensive studies of the US drones programme from a human rights perspective, documents recent killings in Pakistan’s north-western tribal areas, where most drone strikes have taken place. The report condemns the almost complete absence of transparency around the US drone programme.
 
Meanwhile Amnesty is calling on the UK government to refrain from participating in any way in US drone strikes that violate international law, including by the sharing of intelligence or facilities, or the transfer of specialist components.

'Secrecy surrounding the drones programme gives the US administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law. It’s time for the USA to come clean about the drones programme and hold those responsible for these violations to account.
 
'What hope for redress can there be for victims of drone attacks and their families when the USA won’t even acknowledge its responsibility for particular strikes?'
Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher and author of the report

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 executions, which are crimes under international law.
 
The USA continues to rely on a “global war” doctrine to attempt to justify a borderless war with al-Qa’ida, the Taliban or other “enemies” of the USA. The USA’s promise to increase transparency around drone strikes, underscored by a major policy speech by President Barack Obama in May, has yet to become a reality and the USA still refuses to divulge even basic factual and legal information. This secrecy has enabled the USA to act with impunity and block victims from receiving justice or compensation. As far as Amnesty is aware, no US official has ever been held to account for unlawful killings by drones in Pakistan.
 
Amnesty reviewed all 45 known drone strikes that took place in North Waziristan in north-western Pakistan between January 2012 and August this year. Contrary to official claims that those killed were “terrorists”, Amnesty’s research indicates that in a number of cases the victims were not involved in armed activity and posed no threat to life.
 
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 the family’s fields while surrounded by her grandchildren.
 
In July 2012, 18 labourers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in multiple strikes on an impoverished village close to the border with Afghanistan as they were about to eat an evening meal at the end of work.  
 
Amnesty also documented cases of so-called “rescuer attacks” in which those who ran to the aid of the victims of an initial drone strike were themselves targeted in a rapid follow-on attack.
 
In addition to the threat of US drone strikes, people in North Waziristan are frequently caught between attacks by armed groups and Pakistan’s own armed forces. The local population lives in constant fear of violence by all sides, and the US drone programme has added to local suffering, with people in the region now also living in terror of death from US drones hovering in the skies.

'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.'
Mustafa Qadri

The report 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 and Human Rights Watch are jointly calling on the US Congress to fully investigate cases documented by the two organisations, as well as other potentially unlawful deaths, and to disclose any evidence of human rights violations to the public.
 
Amnesty International is calling on:
 
The US authorities to:

  • Publicly disclose the facts and legal basis for drone strikes carried out in Pakistan and information about any investigation into killings by US drones
  • Ensure prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that drone strikes resulted in unlawful killings
  • Bring those responsible for unlawful drone strikes to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty
  • Ensure that victims of unlawful drone strikes, including family members of victims of unlawful killings, have effective access to justice, compensation and other remedies

The Pakistani authorities to:

  • Provide adequate access to justice and reparations for victims of US drone strikes and attacks by Pakistan forces, and seek reparations and other remedies for drone strikes from the US authorities
  • Bring to justice, in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty, individuals responsible for unlawful killings and other human rights abuses in North Waziristan. This should include US drone strikes, attacks by the Pakistan armed forces, or groups like the Taliban and al-Qa’ida
  • Publicly disclose information on all US drone strikes of which the Pakistani authorities are aware, including casualties and all assistance provided to victims

The UK authorities to:

  • Lift the veil of secrecy surrounding UK involvement in the use of drones, including by revealing the rules of engagement for drone strikes and declaring what assistance the UK currently offers to the USA
  • Immediately stop the transfer of any specialist components for use in the US drone programme where it is likely they might be used for unlawful killings
  • All governments, including the UK, who use armed drones must give details of casualties resulting from drone use

The UK should urge the USA and Pakistan to take the measures outlined above and officially protest and pursue remedies under international law, when lethal force is unlawfully used by the USA.

Read the full report - 'Will I be next: US Drone strikes in Pakistan' (PDF)

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