How the human rights are droned
Those following the death of Taliban chief still wonder where the killing of an innocent taxi driver Muhammad Azam, who was taking the Taliban leader Mulla Akhtar Mansour in his vehicle, in a US drone attack stands. Is it legitimate in any sense? Is it not a stark violation of human rights and in contravention to international law/international norms? For human rights groups, the answer is very much clear. Some four years ago, the Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and Center for Civilians in Conflict conducted a study “The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions”. It stated that the US claims of precision and the low number of civilian casualties caused by drone strikes, while not empirically disproven, obscure key questions about civilian harm in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. “Drones are a technological advance, but in practice they carry their own problems for minimising harm to civilians, especially when used in places with fewer US boots on the ground,” stated Naureen Shah, Acting Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia. “For example, drones produce a flood of video data that’s hard to corroborate, and it’s nearly impossible to properly investigate who was actually killed or injured.”
Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, said that drones were becoming synonymous with US counterterrorism strategy. “But unlike in regular wars, policymakers are failing to ask the hard questions here, including whether other tactics or strategies are more appropriate than drone strikes, and whether US expansion of drone operations is causing more harm than good.” After one such attack in Yemen in December 2013 which ostensibly killed members of a wedding procession, the Human Rights Watch asked the US government to “ensure that the United States is taking all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians in targeted killings and is complying with all other obligations under the laws of war.” It also recommended: “Outside of armed conflict situations, use lethal force only when absolutely necessary to protect human life in accordance with international human rights law. Conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into the air strike outside Rada on December 12, 2013 and other strikes that may have violated the laws of war. Make public the findings, including drone videos of the attack, and seek disciplinary measures or criminal prosecutions as appropriate. Implement a system of prompt and meaningful compensation for civilian loss of life, injury, and property damage from unlawful attacks. The United States also should institute a system of condolence or ex-gratia payments, as it has done in Iraq and Afghanistan, for losses in which there is no assumption of liability.” The recommendations also included: “Explain the full legal basis on which the United States carries out targeted killings, including the attack on December 12, 2013. Publicly clarify all policy guidelines for targeted killings. Explain the apparent discrepancy between the strike on December 12, 2013 and the May 2013 policy on targeted attacks announced by President Obama on May 23, 2013.”
Similarly, in 2013, the Amnesty International also launched a report which said that “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.” Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher, stated: “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.”Amnesty stated that contrary to US official claims that those killed were terrorists, its research showed that the victims of these attacks were not involved in fighting and posed no threat to life.
“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 United States,” Qadri declared at that time. The above blunt statement by Qadri perhaps explains the poor innocent taxi driver’s killing by a US drone, three years after they were delivered towards an unresponsive world, especially officials of the US administration.