US officials responsible for carrying out drone strikes may have to stand trial for war crimes, says a report by Amnesty International, which lists civilian casualties in the attacks in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch has issued similar report on Yemen.
The Amnesty International report is based on the investigation of the nine out of 45 drone strikes reported between January 2012 and August 2013 in North Waziristan, the area where the US drone campaign is most intensive. The research is centered on one particular case – that of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi, who was killed by a US drone last October while she was picking vegetables with her grandchildren.
The report, titled, “Will I be next?” cites the woman’s eight-year-old granddaughter, Nabeela, who was near when the attack occurred, but miraculously survived.
"First it whistled then I heard a "dhummm," Nabeela says. “The first hit us and the second my cousin.”
The report also recounts an incident from July 2012, when 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old, were killed in the village of Zowi Sidgi. The men gathered after work in a tent to have a rest when the first missile hit. The second struck those who tried to help the injured.
“Amnesty International is seriously concerned that these and other strikes have resulted in unlawful killings that may constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes,” the report reads.
Amnesty’s main point is the need for transparency and accountability, something the US has so far been reluctant to offer.
“The US must explain why these people have been killed - people who are clearly civilians. It must provide justice to these people, compensation and it must investigate those responsible for those killings,” Mustafa Qadri, the Amnesty researcher who wrote the report, says.
The report also questions the effectiveness of drone attacks in Pakistan as a means of combatting terrorists. Researchers believe such strikes may eventually lead to strengthening the terrorist cell as they “foster animosity that increases recruitment into the very groups the USA seeks to eliminate”.
“The ultimate tragedy is that the drone aircraft the US deploys over Pakistan now instill the same kind of fear in the people of the Tribal Areas that was once associated only with al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” the report reads.
The US government is aware of the Amnesty International report on drone strikes, according to the group’s head of the South-Asia program, Polly Truscott.
“We contacted the US government in advance of our report being published and the CIA referred us to the White House and the White House referred us to US President Barack Obama’s speech of May 2013 which made promises of transparency. We’ve seen little change to date,” Truscott told RT.
In his speech on US drone policy in May, President Barack Obama sought to reassure his audience that the strikes did not target individuals and were only taken “against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people.”
But Amnesty International is questioning whether there was any “legitimate target” in the area.
“That US government interpretation appeared to allow the killing of an individual in the absence of any intelligence about a specific planned attack, or the individual’s personal involvement in planning or carrying out a specific attack. It stretched the concept of imminence well beyond its ordinary meaning and established interpretations under the existing international law on the right of states to self-defense.”
On the same day as Amnesty International’s report on Pakistan, Human Rights Watch released its own research on drone strikes in Yemen. The report, titled “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda” also lists civilian casualties in recent drone strikes, two of which, according to the report, were carried out “in clear violation of the laws of war.”
The reports by both human rights watchdogs come as the US is facing growing international pressure over its drone program.
Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, is currently in Washington, where he is expected to talk about the drone attacks with Obama. And on Friday, the UN General Assembly will debate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
In a separate report, a UN investigation revealed some 33 drone strikes around the world - not just in Pakistan - that violated international humanitarian law and resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties. That report is also calling for more transparency and accountability from the United States.
That is only achievable if an international probe into America's drone activities is launched, according to Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies. The U.S. won't shoot itself in the foot with an investigation she believes.
“The US has a consistent position in refusing to allow its highest officials, whether political or military, to be held accountable for the consequences of wars that are themselves fundamentally violations of international law. International law in the United States unfortunately is too often only applied to other countries and not to ourselves… And what we’ve seen is that the US government is not prepared to investigate itself. So the question of international investigations – whether it’s in the context of the international criminal code to which of course the US is not a member or whether it’s in the context of the Amnesty International, the United Nations, other agencies – all of these need to be explored and used,” Bennis told RT.