ISLAMABAD / NEW YORK, March 15: United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism has concluded that US drone strikes violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and called for their immediate cessation.
The Special Rapporteur, Mr Ben Emmerson, said in a statement after conclusion of his unannounced visit to Pakistan from March 11 to 13 that Pakistan needed to be given an opportunity to establish peace in the country.
The UN rapporteur is investigating the civilian impact of the use of drones and other forms of targeted killing in the context of counter-terrorism operations. He would present his report during the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in October.
Mr Emmerson held meetings with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Adviser on Human Rights Mustafa Khokhar, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production Mushahid Hussain, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and other officials. He also met a number of victims of drone attacks, lawyers of some of the victims, and a delegation of tribal Maliks from Waziristan.
Representatives of military and ISI did not meet him.
“It (drone war) involves the use of force on the territory of another State without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” Mr Emmerson, a British counter-terrorism expert, said.
He appeared to be convinced with the government position that it had not consented to the strikes by the US. The rapporteur was informed by officials that “thorough search of government records had revealed no indication of such consent having been given”.
In 2010, then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had told reporters that former president Pervez Musharraf had allowed the United States to carry out drone flights in tribal areas for reconnaissance.
The international community has remained seized with the debate over the legality of intervention by a third party (an outside state) in an internal conflict in a country even with the tacit permission of its government and deployment of remote targeting technology like drones.
The other important part of Mr Emmerson’s investigation was whether unwillingness of a state or its inability to tackle the terrorist threat posed by an insurgent group operating on its territory made the use of force by an outside state legal.
The rapporteur’s assessment challenged the widely propagated narrative that Pakistan was not capable of fighting the terrorists, who were having sanctuaries in Waziristan.
“Based on its direct knowledge of local conditions, Pakistan aims to a sustainable counter-terrorism strategy that involves dialogue and development in this complex region and that tackles not only the manifestations of terrorism but also its root causes.”
He said Pakistan needed space “to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States”.
Mr Emmerson noted: “Taken together with its broader strategy of engaging militant groups in dialogue, and the provision of development assistance to the tribal communities in Fata, the government considers that it has the necessary legal, law-enforcement and military resources at its disposal to tackle the issue of militant groups operating in Fata in a manner which is effective and which respects local tribal affiliations and traditions, with a view to building a sustainable route to peace in the region.”
Pakistan considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating terrorism in the region, he said.
The rapporteur was told by the ministry of human rights that its findings suggested that strikes were a source of radicalisation and violent extremism among younger Pashtun males.
Government statistics shared with Mr Emmerson said that at least 400 civilians had been killed as a result of drone strikes, out of whom 200 were likely non-combatants.
Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, said the UN rapporteur had considered at least 25 case studies in which civilians were killed because of drone strikes.
“The accelerated use of combat drones on the western border region of Pakistan is setting a dangerous precedent for countries such as India, China, and Russia, which are all characterised as having conflicts with their neighbouring states. The Pakistan precedent makes it more likely that other countries will follow the American example, when almost 76 countries currently have drones in their military arsenals,” a CRSS report said.
According to the ministry of foreign affairs’ data, the US has carried out at least 330 drone strikes on the Pakistani territory since 2004 in which around 2,200 people have been killed and more than 600 others suffered serious injuries.
In New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement on Friday that he was concerned by the use of armed UAVs (drones) for targeted attacks.
“There is a need for greater confidence in the international community that the use of these weapons is within the bounds of international law,” he said.
Reuters adds: US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland while reacting to the UN rapporteur’s report in Washington said: “We’ve seen his press release. I’m obviously not going to speak about classified information here.”
“We have a strong ongoing counter-terrorism dialogue with Pakistan and that will continue,” she said.
Spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House would withhold judgment until it saw the UN rapporteur’s full report.
“We have a solid working relationship with them (Pakistan) on a range of issues, including a close cooperative security relationship, and we’re in touch with them on a regular basis on those issues.”