Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Drone attacks in Pakistan violate UN and international laws

The United Nations (UN) has finally woken up to the violations of international and UN laws resulting from the death of civilians in Pakistan at the hands of American aerial bombings.

Using unmanned planes called drones, the US has been bombing tribal areas in Pakistan since 2008.  Apart from a handful of terrorists and militants killed in these attacks, most of the 600 dead have largely been Pakistani civilians. To date the U.S.  and the Pakistani government has neither apologized or compensated the victims of American bombings.

While there is a lack of consensus in Pakistan on how to deal with the militant Taliban, the Pakistanis however have been unanimous in their opposition to the American aerial bombings on their soil, which violates Pakistan's sovereignty and its constitution.

The United Nations human rights investigator Philip Alston has recently questioned the legality of such attacks on sovereign states (Pakistan and Afghanistan) by the American planes. 

"My concern is that these drones, these Predators, are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

"The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons."

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions

The billions of dollars paid by the Bush and Obama administrations to Pakistani military and civilian governments have largely served as blood money used to buy complacency and silence of the Pakistani government and military, who have been in cahoots with the Americans in murdering civilians in Pakistan's tribal areas. Apart from issuing lame press releases condemning drone attacks, Pakistani authorities have not done anything concrete to prevent violation of its territorial integrity.

Far from protecting its territorial integrity, Pakistani authorities have been found facilitating the drone attacks. Investigative journalists in the UK discovered that the US drones were in fact being fuelled at a Pakistani air force base called Shamsi, which is located 190 miles southwest of Quetta. The army spokesperson, Maj. General Athar Abbas confirmed to Times that the airfield was used by the US forces for “logistics.” The Times OnLine reported the following on February 17, 2009:

Key to the Times investigation is the unexplained delivery of 730,000 gallons of F34 aviation fuel to Shamsi. Details were found on the website of the Pentagon’s fuel procurement agency.

The Defence Energy Support Centre site shows that a civilian company, Nordic Camp Supply (NCS), was contracted to deliver the fuel, worth $3.2 million, from Pakistan Refineries near Karachi.

It also shows the fuel was delivered last year, when the United States escalated drone attacks on Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, allegedly killing several top Taleban and al-Qaeda targets, but also many civilians.

While the Pakistani government has largely abdicated its responsibilities towards its citizens, a group of American citizens staged a blockade of the Airbase in Nevada desert from where the US Air Force operates the drones flown in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The following video is from Democracy Now about the protest by ordinary Americans calling to “Ground Drones.”

There is no denying the fact that an armed struggle against the militants in Pakistan is inevitable. Given the violence perpetrated by the militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan, one cannot foresee a peaceful solution to the chaos Pakistan faces today.  However, the necessary use of violence against the militants should not be an excuse to violate the UN, international, and Pakistani laws.

If the militants have been using suicide bombings to kill civilians, how is the civilized world any better than the militants by killing civilians in Pakistan using aerial bombings?

Drones are unmanned combat air vehicles.  The United States Air force operated over 200 drones as of early 2009.  Approximately 195 Predators (mostly used for surveillance) and 28 Reapers (armed with bombs) constitute the American drone fleet (Wikipedia). Most drones are manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical (GAA), based in San Diego, California. In a press release issued by the company on March 3, 2009, GAA observed the following:

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), a leading manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and tactical reconnaissance radars, today announced that MQ-1 Predator® aircraft delivered to the U.S. Air Force (USAF) have surpassed the 500,000 flight hour milestone, with 87 percent of those hours being flown in combat.  The milestone was achieved by P-143 on February 16 while it performed an armed reconnaissance mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).  This particular aircraft has flown over 330 combat missions in the two-and-a-half years it has been deployed.

The New York Times has published several articles praising the engineering and innovation of drones, even when these planes have been used by the US Air Force in illegal operations, that fact now being recognized by the United Nations. The New York Times reported on March 16:

A missile fired by an American drone killed at least four people late Sunday at the house of a militant commander in northwest Pakistan, the latest use of what intelligence officials have called their most effective weapon against Al Qaeda.

And Pentagon officials say the remotely piloted planes, which can beam back live video for up to 22 hours, have done more than any other weapons system to track down insurgents and save American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The drones are far from being perfect. “Air Force officials acknowledge that more than a third of their unmanned Predator spy planes — which are 27 feet long, powered by a high-performance snowmobile engine, and cost $4.5 million apiece — have crashed, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (source: New York Times)

Lastly, not to be left behind, Pakistan has also claimed to start manufacturing drones. The prototype was recently unveiled in front of the military brass and the event was televised.

The Pakistani government cannot provide sanitation, potable water, or electricity to most of its citizens. Furthermore, chronic food shortages in Pakistan have resulted in riots and suicides. The  State, however, is quite capable of developing unmanned surveillance crafts. What to say of misguided priorities.

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