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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: USA must be held to account for drone killings in Pakistan

23 Oct 2013
[International Secretariat]
Region: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
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Mamana Bibi's granddaughter. Mamana Bibi was killed in a US drone strike on 24 October 2012 in the village of Ghundi Kala, North Waziristan, Pakistan.(C) Amnesty International
Mamana Bibi's granddaughter. Mamana Bibi was killed in a US drone strike on 24 October 2012 in the village of Ghundi Kala, North Waziristan, Pakistan.(C) Amnesty International

New evidence indicates that the USA has carried out unlawful killings in Pakistan through drone attacks, some of which could even amount to war crimes, Amnesty International said in a major new report released today.

The report, "'Will I be next?' US drone strikes in Pakistan", is one of the most comprehensive studies to date of the US drone program from a human rights perspective.

It documents recent killings in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas and the almost complete absence of transparency around the US drone program.

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 International 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.

The organization conducted detailed field research into nine of these strikes, with the report documenting killings, which raise serious questions about violations of international law that could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions.
 
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.  

Contrary to official claims that those killed were "terrorists", Amnesty International’s research indicates that the victims of these attacks were not involved in fighting and posed no threat to life.

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 execution, which are crimes under international law.

The USA’s 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 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 International is aware, no US official has ever been held to account for unlawful killings by drones in Pakistan.

Al-Qa'ida-linked groups have killed dozens of local villagers they accused of being spies for US drone strikes. Residents of Mir Ali told Amnesty International that bodies are routinely seen dumped by the side of streets with written messages warning that anyone accused of spying for the USA will meet the same fate.

While the Pakistan government maintains it opposes the US drone program, Amnesty International is concerned that some officials and institutions in Pakistan and in other countries including Australia, Germany and the UK may be assisting the USA to carry out drone strikes that constitute human rights violations.

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 that the Pakistani authorities are aware of, including casualties and all assistance provided to victims.

The international community to:

  • Oppose US drone strikes and other killings that violate international law and urge the USA and Pakistan to take the measures outlined above. States should officially protest and pursue remedies under international law when lethal force is unlawfully used by the USA or other states.
  • Refrain from participating in any way in US drone strikes that violate international law, including by sharing intelligence or facilities.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE
22 October 2013

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