Amnesty International – “Will I Be Next?” US Drone Strikes in Pakistan

The Pakistan government and NGOs estimate that the US has launched some 330 to 374 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and September 2013, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians. Drones are allegedly used to target members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda that have found refuge in Pakistan to escape US military operations in Afghanistan as well as other armed groups alleged to plot attacks on the US, Europe and other international targets. The vast majority of the US drone strikes, however, have been conducted in virtual secrecy aided by the remote and lawless nature of the region.  

This report, based on a field research into nine airstrikes that took place in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal agency between January 2012 and August 2013, is a quality assessment of the impact of the US drone programme in the country. While the US claims that its drone operations in northern Pakistan are based on reliable intelligence and are extremely accurate, critics argue that drone strikes are much less discriminating, cause high civilian casualties, and foster animosity that increases recruitment by insurgents.

Following a background analysis of US drone operations against armed groups in North Waziristan, the report details drone strikes cases in which civilians have been killed. These case studies evidence potential violations of international humanitarian law – including violations of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution – and/or international human rights law. While acknowledging that it is impossible to establish all the facts without further information, Amnesty International considers that some of drone strikes may amount to extrajudicial executions or war crimes and raises concerns over the US refusal to provide basic explanations on particular strikes. Accordingly, it calls on the US to fulfil its obligations to carry out prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations and to provide victims of crimes with adequate, effective, and prompt reparations.  

The report proceeds with an analysis of States’ legal obligation to investigate credible allegations of unlawful deaths and to provide victims with adequate, effective and prompt reparations for the harm suffered. Amnesty International blames the US’s persistent unwillingness to acknowledge these strikes, coupled with Pakistan’s ambiguous attitude towards the drone program and limited governance in the Tribal Areas, for the fact that survivors of drone attacks and the families of the victims have had little or no chance of securing justice. In this respect, Amnesty International denounces Pakistan failure to protect and enforce the rights of the victims by (i) investigating airstrikes, where there are reasonable grounds to indicate that unlawful killings have occurred, and (ii) ensuring victims have access to an effective remedy, including seeking reparations from the US.  

The report provides a careful review of the status of the US drone policy under international law as well as the role played by Pakistan and other governments in the continued use of drones in the country. It concludes that all States who assist the USA in carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan must (i) carry out independent and impartial investigations into any organs or officials implicated in potential crimes, (ii) refrain from participating in any way in US drone strikes conducted in violation of the relevant rules of international law and, instead, (iii) urge compliance by the USA with its international obligations.