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Letta Tayler, senior counter-terrorism researcher at HRW, accompanied by Mustafa Qadri, a Pakistan researcher at AI, talks about the findings of two new reports on US drone on Tuesday in Washington. — AP Photo
Letta Tayler, senior counter-terrorism researcher at HRW, accompanied by Mustafa Qadri, a Pakistan researcher at AI, talks about the findings of two new reports on US drone on Tuesday in Washington. — AP Photo
Based on restricted and rare access to the region, the AI report documents nine strikes that occurred in 2012 and 2013 in northwestern Pakistan.   — File Photo
Based on restricted and rare access to the region, the AI report documents nine strikes that occurred in 2012 and 2013 in northwestern Pakistan. — File Photo

WASHINGTON: Human rights groups on Tuesday accused the United States of breaking international law and perhaps committing war crimes by killing civilians in missile and drone strikes that were intended to hit militants in Pakistan and Yemen.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released separate reports detailing the deaths of dozens of civilians in the two countries. They urged the Obama administration and Congress to investigate, and end a policy of secrecy on the attacks.

“In some of the cases we looked at...they appear to be war crimes, but really the full picture is for the US authorities to reveal,” Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International, said after describing the death of a 68-year-old Pakistani grandmother in an alleged drone strike.

“We are saying for the US authorities to come clean,” he said at a joint news conference with Human Rights Watch.

Responding to the reports, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama administration officials “take the matter of civilian casualties enormously seriously.” He said he could not speak to specific operations, but that US policies met international and domestic legal obligations and the standard of “near certainty” that civilians would not be hit.

US officials have argued that any drone strikes are very carefully targeted and that civilian casualties have been kept to a bare minimum, possibly in the low dozens.

Letta Tayler of Human Rights Watch said her organisation had found violations of international law when civilians were “indiscriminately” killed in Yemen.

In a Sept 2, 2012, attack, the target — an alleged Al Qaeda militant, Abd al-Raouf al-Dahab — was “nowhere in sight” when the United States hit a passenger van and killed 12 people returning from the market, she said.

“Their loved ones found their charred bodies in pieces on the roadside, dusted in flour and sugar that they were bringing home to their families,” Tayler told reporters.

Both the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports looked at a handful of US attacks in Pakistan and Yemen to urge transparency and accountability in US policy.

US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen increased dramatically after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, and the pilotless aerial vehicles became a key part of the fight against Al Qaeda. More recently the number of strikes has lowered.

The United States has also used drones over Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Iraq, and this year received approval to base drones in Niger.

Obama discussed drone strikes in a speech on counter-terrorism policy last May, when he also signed a document codifying guidelines for the use of force against terrorists. He said that before drone strikes were taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians would be killed or wounded.

Civilian deaths

Earlier this month, Pakistan told the United Nations that of some 2,200 people killed by drone strikes in the past decade, at least 400 were civilians, a UN human rights investigator said.

The United States has not followed its own guidelines, even striking in cases where the targets were not present, or when it would have been easy to capture targets instead of killing them, the human rights advocates said.

The Central Intelligence Agency declined comment.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, visiting Washington, said drones had deeply disturbed the Pakistani people.

“This issue has become a major deterrent in our bilateral relationship as well. I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks,” Sharif said.

Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region is the area of the most intensive US drone campaign in the world.

Qadri, Amnesty's researcher, said he was concerned that Pakistani authorities may be complicit in the strikes, but that he had no concrete evidence of this.

Amnesty's 74-page report said it had researched nine strikes in the North Waziristan region.

The Pakistani grandmother, Mamana Bibi, was killed last October in one strike and several of her grandchildren were wounded; 18 civilian labourers died in another strike in July, the report said.

Human Rights Watch's 96-page report described six “unacknowledged” US military attacks on targets in Yemen, one in 2009 and the others in 2012-2013. Eighty-two people, 57 of whom were civilians, were killed, it said.

In Dec 17, 2009, an attack by as many as five US Navy cruise missiles struck a Yemeni hamlet. Human Rights Watch said that although 14 fighters for Al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate were killed in the attack, so were at least 41 civilians.

Comments (16) Closed

Asim Iqbal Oct 22, 2013 11:52am

So What?

fazalpai Oct 22, 2013 12:02pm

They have to show their existence, no matter how much late.

Nimar Oct 22, 2013 12:39pm

Well I am fully with the view of PM, the drone strikes should stop immediately. They are not just counter productive, they constitute terrorism in itself. None of the targets are charged for any crimes prior to the attack and there is no accountability, as to who were the 'suspected miltiants' that die as a result of each strike. If locals are questioned, it is found that the victims were mostly civilians or a tribal head with no links to terrorists. Pakistan army and intelligence also seem to have either no scruples on deaths or are being diplomatic to the extreme. Here the role of media in the form of investigative reporting also lacks. I believe 'Dawn' can do much more in this regard.

Shoaib Wahab Oct 22, 2013 12:45pm

Drone strikes are inhuman and an eminent threat to a sustainable future...

Talking Point Oct 22, 2013 01:24pm

If killing of people by drones is a war crime , so is the killing of people by terrorists and infiltrators across borders .When is AI going to. Wake up to it?

mba Oct 22, 2013 01:54pm

I hope, someone is going to file a case against US governmant on this proven affair. It is a shame we are talking about 100,- or 10.000,- Dollars. We should respect our deads properly and start thinking of compensation in Millions of Dollars - not in Thousands. This is also the optimum way to tell our sad story to the public of responsible countries via international media and progbably gaining the involvement of good lawyers. I don

Hasan Oct 22, 2013 02:46pm

What a shame, this country allows others to kill its citizens. Imran says "at least tell us the names of those who are killed in these strikes." Well, Mr. Imran talking about strikes on a talk show is not enough, ever since you took charge of NWFP government, you have toned down your protest against inhumane strikes or inflation in this country.

Riaz Oct 22, 2013 04:17pm

UN & Amnesty International or any other international agencies are unfortunately a mere drama - spineless organizations infront of USA. They are there to monitor & punish third world countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Syria, etc. They can do nothing against the big giants of the world. The whole world knows that US has been conducting drone attacks that kills civilians ... and repeatedly people of Pakistan has complained about it (I am not mentioning Govt of Pakistan as they secretly approve of those attacks) - but what has happened so far? These are definite war crimes, but will they prosecute Bush & Obama for it? No one has courage to do so!

ailly Oct 22, 2013 06:03pm

nice article Dawn.

good info shared with us here. nevertheless an old info but at least a good info shared. so are we still going to wait and see whether USA will stop drones or our PM will again endorse back-door permission to continue drone attacks on Pak land ?.

jamshed Oct 22, 2013 06:17pm

Funny, how Pakistani Americans, who talk of great rights and privileges they enjoy in their adopted country, cannot put pressure on its administration to stop this clear blatant violations of their homeland.

MSA Oct 22, 2013 06:16pm

Drone attacks are new and undesirable for USA; but what do you do if the government of Pakistan itself cannot do anything, although it recognizes that there is terrorist activity in the area.

muhibbewatan Oct 22, 2013 10:42pm

Appropriately timed article that should be widely circulated and touted among the peace-seeking masses of this 'global village'. Seems like someone must drive home the advantage here to try and initiate a 'different peace route' for that violence-ridden region notoriously known for its volatility and threat to global peace.

Electric Warrior Oct 22, 2013 10:38pm

Someones calculations are very wrong concerning the strikes,for example if 10 people are killed in each strike there must have been over 500 strikes in the real sense so the figure goes into over 5000 people who have been slaughtered by these warmongers in our country. The cowards of our country who hold power are silently watching and doing nothing. Well done to Amnesty international who are highlighting the case. If there was peace in our country the Army would drastically lose out in foreign aid, so it in the best interest of the army for instability to continue.Further more the army bigheads are going into swath etc where they will occupy land and make large investments for themselves like they have near the Indian border. We should shoot down any aircraft or missile violating into our airspace without a warning. We are a nuclear power we should not be pushed around. We should sit with the militants to find the cause of their concerns and address the issues realistically

Prapur Oct 22, 2013 10:51pm

Drones strike are here to stay as long as terrorist are given safe heaven inside Pakistan. USA doesn't listen to anyone when it comes to protecting its self interest.

Isadora Oct 23, 2013 01:16am

Where are the other comments?

If there are none, surely this is part of the problem.

Imtiaz Faruqui Oct 24, 2013 12:48am

@jamshed: Drones are allowed with the full consent of the Pakistan Army, People in pakistan should protest against the Army and the Govt.