Drones, Pakistan & international law


 By Imtiaz Gul

The American CIA’s actions involving the use of drones are a contravention of the due process of law but this modern weapon remains the preferred choice of the American security establishment. The element of justice is missing altogether from this kind of warfare because the CIA never contacts a court for action against perceived enemies. Making a case against drones as a violation of international law at an international counterterrorism conference at Geneva (February 16), Jean-Francois Fechino, director at the International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights, said drones have invaded our skies and homes and will probably continue to do so.

The international conference drew several dozen leaders, security experts and officials from all over to discuss how a cooperative international effort could strengthen the rule of law and reinstate basic human rights principles, while performing counterterrorism activities.

The conference was informed that 364 of the 415 drone strikes (until early February 2015) on targets inside Pakistani territory had killed nearly 4,000, including over 1000 civilians, mostly women and children. A case study of 24 such strikes by the Centre for Research and Security Studies, too, had exposed the extremely disproportionate civilian harm caused by these attacks which increased seven-fold under the Obama Administration.

A petition filed with the Peshawar High Court in 2012 had quoted the instance of drone strikes in North Waziristan, where it said only 47 of 896 civilians killed until December 2012 were foreigners.

The conference was also reminded of the March 11, 2013 ruling by the Peshawar High Courtwhich said that “drone strikes, carried out in the tribal areas (Fata) particularly North and South Waziristan by the CIA and US Authorities, are blatant violation of Basic Human Rights and are against the UN Charter, the UN General Assembly Resolution, adopted unanimously, the provision of Geneva Conventions thus, it is held to be a War Crime, cognisable by the International Court of Justice or Special Tribunal for War Crimes, constituted or to be constituted by the UNO for this purpose.”

But participants generally agreed that despite criticism by the UN and the European Commission on Human Rights, watchdogs such as the Amnesty International and Reprieve, the CIA has continued using drones against targets inside Pakistan.

This has consequently subverted the principle of rule of law, eroded common peoples’ trust in slogans such as democracy and limited access to justice. The ambiguity of the Pakistani government and the absence of accountability and transparency in the use of drones has also prevented the establishment of a compensatory mechanism for the families of the innocent victims.

Assuming that geopolitics — guided by the overarching by the US and European corporate sector’s interest and limitations of a country such as Pakistan — will always trump international and national humanitarian law, one can only hope that the Pakistani state at some stage takes a categorical position against drones, and lobbies with other likeminded states to push for an accountable and transparent counterterrorism mechanism.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies. He can be reached at [email protected]