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US drone strikes illegal, govt should stop them – Pakistani court

Published time: May 10, 2013 10:24
Edited time: May 10, 2013 13:19
Demonstrators shout anti-US slogans during a protest against drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal region, in Multan on December 6, 2012. (AFP Photo)

Demonstrators shout anti-US slogans during a protest against drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal region, in Multan on December 6, 2012. (AFP Photo)

A high court in Pakistan has ruled that US drone strikes in the country's tribal belt should be considered war crimes and directed the government to use force to "protect the right to life" of its citizens.

The Peshawar High Court has recommended the Pakistani government advance a resolution against the attacks in the United Nations. The court issued its verdict on the CIA-run air strikes in response to four petitions charging the attacks killed civilians and caused “collateral damage.

Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan heard the petitions, and ruled that drone strikes on sovereign Pakistani territory were illegal, inhumane and a violation of the UN charter on human rights.

“The government of Pakistan must ensure that no drone strike takes place in the future,” the court said on Thursday, according to the Press Trust of India. Khan also asked Pakistan's foreign ministry to file a resolution against the attacks in the UN.

The court also recommended that if the US rejects these findings in the UN, Pakistan should break off relations with Washington: “If the US vetoes the resolution, then the country should think about breaking diplomatic ties with the US.”

Pakistani demonstrators shout slogans beside a burning US flag during a protest in Multan on January 3, 2013, against the drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas. (AFP Photo)


The Pakistani case was filed last year by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a charity based in Islamabad, on behalf of the families of victims killed in a drone attack on a tribal jirga, including more than 50 tribal elders and a number of government officials.

According to a report submitted by political officials of North Waziristan Agency, 896 Pakistani residents of the region were killed in the last five years ending December 2012, and 209 were seriously injured. A report by the South Waziristan Agency showed that 70 drone strikes were carried out in the last five years ending June 2012, in which 553 people were killed and 126 injured.

"In view of the established facts, undeniable in nature, under the UN Charter and Conventions, the people of Pakistan have every right to ask the security forces either to prevent such strikes by force or to shoot down intruding drones," the court verdict said.

Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer for victims in the case, hailed this as a “landmark” judgment: “Drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This judgment will also prove to be a test for the new government: If drone strikes continue and the government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court,” he said, according to the website of legal action charity Reprieve.

Killing terrorists, breeding enemies

The United States regularly targets Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan's mountainous tribal regions accused of carrying out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Washington claims the operations are done in cooperation with Pakistan's military.

Human rights groups, however, criticize the “collateral damage” of innocent civilian deaths caused by the attacks, and point to the shroud of secrecy surrounding drone use.

“Drone attacks on northwest Pakistan, which commenced under former US President George W. Bush in 2004, have increased sevenfold under Obama and has caused the deaths of thousands of suspected terrorists and at least hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen,” Bloomberg reported in April.  

Even some of America’s leading commanders fear blowback over the indiscriminate use of this new military technology.

“The resentment created” by Washington’s newfound reliance on drone strikes “is much greater than the average American appreciates,” General Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan, told Reuters in January. The use of drones adds to “the perception of American arrogance that says, ‘We can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.”’

At the same time, America’s foreign critics seem to be gaining ground as Washington continues to pursue drone warfare.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party is considered the favorite in this Saturday's election, recently vowed that he would not permit drone attacks on Pakistani soil.

“Drone attacks are against the national sovereignty and a challenge for the country's autonomy and independence,” he said.

Clive Stafford Smith of the London-based group Reprieve said the court’s ruling is a step toward greater transparency in Washington’s use of drone technology: “Today's momentous decision by the Peshawar High Court shines the first rays of accountability onto the CIA's secret drone war,” the Independent quoted him as saying.

The innocent people killed by American drone strikes are civilian victims of US war crimes, he added.