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Some US drone attacks amount to war crimes: Amnesty

October 22, 2013 13:11 IST

The United States has carried out "unlawful killings" in Pakistan through drone attacks, some of which could even amount to war crimes, a human rights group said on Tuesday.

In its report, the Amnesty International also expressed concern that "some officials and institutions" in Pakistan and in other countries including Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom may be assisting the US to carry out drone strikes that constitute human rights violations.

The report, ‘Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan’, has said a number of civilians were killed in drone strikes in Pakistan. It said that according to non-government organisations and Pakistan government sources, the US has launched some 330 to 374 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and September 2013.

"Amnesty International is not in a position to endorse these figures, but according to these sources, between 400 and 900 civilians have been killed in these attacks and at least 600 people seriously injured," it said.

The US has maintained that the drone strikes are targeted at specific terrorists. However, Pakistani government and rights groups have said there is a lot of collateral damage.

"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," said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty’s Pakistan researcher.  

The rights group said it reviewed all 45 known drone strikes that took place in North Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan between January 2012 and August 2013. The region that has seen more strikes than any other part of the country. It said a detailed field research into nine of these strikes, with the report documenting killings, raise serious questions about violations of international law that could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions.

Giving details of civilian casualties, the rights group said 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 a handful of her grandchildren.

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. Missiles first struck a tent in which some men had gathered for an evening meal after a hard day's work, and then struck those who came to help the injured from the first strike.

Witnesses described a macabre scene of body parts and blood, panic and terror, as US drones continued to hover overhead.

"Contrary to official claims that those killed were 'terrorists', Amnesty research indicates that the victims of these attacks were not involved in fighting and posed no threat to life," the group said in a statement.

"We cannot find any justification for these killings. There are genuine threats to the USA 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.

The use of pilotless aircraft has fast become one of the most controversial human rights issues in the world. In no place is this more apparent than in Pakistan, the report said.

AI 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. While there may have been a presumption that the rescuers were members of the group being targeted, it is difficult to see how such distinctions could be made in the immediate and chaotic aftermath of a missile strike, the group said.

The US continues to rely on a "global war" doctrine to attempt to justify a borderless war with the Al Qaeda, the Taliban and those perceived to be their allies.

The US' promise to increase transparency around drone strikes, underscored by a major policy speech by President Barack Obama in May 2013, has yet to become a reality, and the US still refuses to divulge even basic factual and legal information, it said. This secrecy has enabled the US to act with impunity and block victims from receiving justice or compensation.

"The tragedy is that drone aircraft deployed by the USA over Pakistan now instill the same kind of fear in the people of the tribal areas that was once associated only with the Al Qaeda and the Taliban," said Qadri.

"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," said Qadri.

The report said US should make public information it has about all drone strikes carried out in Pakistan. The US authorities should investigate all reports of civilian casualties from drone strikes.

Snehesh Alex Philip in Islamabad
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