“I see the indiscriminate killings and injuries of civilians in any circumstances as human rights violations,” said Navi Pillay, the United Nation’s High Commissioner in a press conference early June. Pillay went on to add that the secretive use of drones by the US could potentially violate international law, requiring further examination. The US government, however, shows no signs of curbing its use of drones in Pakistan, and has attempted to legitimise drones as a precise weapon causing minimal civilian deaths.
Regardless of the number of civilian deaths linked to drone attacks, the US should have a system in place to compensate inhabitants of Pakistan’s border region who suffer property loss and physical damage due to drone missions.
Certain laws passed by the US government allow citizens of foreign nations to sue the state for damages or compensation of their injuries. The Foreign Claims Act of 1942 was created during World War II to allow Europeans to sue the US for damages they suffered. The purpose of the act is to “promote and maintain friendly relations through the prompt payment of meritorious claims.” During the passage of the act, the acting secretary of the Navy explained, “Experience in connection with the presence of our armed forces in foreign countries has demonstrated that the failure to pay promptly for damages done to native residents by members of our forces is one of the principal sources of irritation which adds considerable difficulty to the maintenance of cordial relations with foreign people.”
However, the act draws a major distinction between the duties to pay damages during a combat mission versus a non-combat mission. This relates to the general principle in international law that a nation is not required to pay damages when it is engaged in a lawful combat operation. William Beach Lawrence, a 19th Century American legal expert, explained, “The first right of every independent state is to assure its own preservation by all the means in its power. When a sovereign using this right is obligated to resort to arms . . . it is a public misfortune which foreigners must share with nationals…”
Despite this distinction, the US has applied the Foreign Claims Act to civilians living in war theaters including Afghanistan and Iraq. The claim can be made by the injured party or their next of kin and is adjudicated by a judge advocate of the US military, with a heavy reliance on evidence released by the Department of Defense. Though the act distinguishes between solitia, condolence payment, and combat damages, there is little practical effect for these distinctions according to the Campaign for Innocent Victims In Conflict (CIVIC).
The following are the recommendations for payments to civilians claiming physical or property damage as reported by CIVIC.
|Injury Suffered||Solitia(USD)||Battle Damage/Condolence (USD)|
|Non Serious Injury||$200||$600|
|Serious Property Damage||--||$2200|
|Non Serious Property Damage||$200||$200|
The US government does not make the settlement process public, because as Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings of the US Army explained, “the settlement of claims is in most cases a sensitive topic for those who have suffered loss (and) it is usually a matter of agreement that the terms of the settlement remain confidential.”
Further, the settlement of claims can often be arbitrary and unequal. In one Iraqi claim, a widow as able to recover 10,000 dollars when her civilian husband was killed by a convoy of American soldiers driving on the wrong side of the road, while a sister of a different civilian killed in the same fashion by American soldiers was only awarded 5,000 dollars in her case.
The US will also not give compensation to family members of combatants, or individuals who were engaged in combatant-like activities. In one case, the wife of a civilian killed by US soldiers was not awarded any damages because her husband had accidentally entered the US convoy while it was on a mission, inadvertently disturbing the mission. CIVIC explained that cases “based on the “combat exception” were given no consideration for a condolence payment… even if it is shown that the victims did not posses ill intent toward the convoy or US forces.”