According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed nearly 5,000 people since June 2004.
January 28, 2013, 15:05 EST
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has announced a new investigation of the civilian toll of US drone strikes overseas. According to Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, the investigation is necessary to assess the legality of the drone strikes that are spreading terror in Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East: “The central objective of the investigation I’m formally launching this morning is to look at the evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties, in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct thorough, independent and impartial investigations into such allegations.”
The UN probe comes as the Obama administration appears to be escalating its drone warfare abroad, launching more than a dozen attacks in Yemen and Pakistan already this year. Last week, the United States launched at least five drone strikes in Yemen in as many days. According to some reports, the latest attack mistakenly killed two Yemeni children. Drone attacks in Pakistan have killed thousands, including (as some reports estimate) two hundred children.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon has urged the three countries with the largest drone programs—the US, UK, and Israel—to comply with the findings of the investigations. The UK has agreed to comply, but there has been no response from the United States, whose defense contractors are rapidly churning out drones and selling them to military and civilian institutions.
A team of experts in Geneva, Switzerland has begun collecting information as a means of assessing the validity and legality of the drones. The UN investigation was launched after Pakistan, in addition to two members of the UN Security Council (China and Russia) raised the issue. The probe is set to examine between 20 and 30 strikes, specially selected to represent different types of attacks. These include civilian death tolls, the identity of the militants targeted and the legality of the attacks in their respective countries. In some of the countries where drones are active the UN has not declared a conflict zone.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed nearly 5,000 people since June 2004. While the Bureau estimates some 800 civilian deaths, Pakistani media sources say the overwhelming majority of deaths (98 %) are civilians. Even the so-called militants targeted by drones are believed to be low level foot soldiers that are of no intrinsic value in the so-called war on terror. In fact, most observers believe the drone attacks have exacerbated anti-American feelings because of the massive loss of civilian life. Repeatedly, American drones have targeted localities twice after buildings have collapsed in the first strike. When rescuers and paramedics rush to the scene, they are also subjected to attacks. This has had a chilling effect on first responders and has prevented them from helping those that have been targeted and injured. This clearly constitutes war crimes.
In recent days, the US has announced a “rules book” for CIA drone operations. Thus, drone strikes will be carried out based on specific rules but Pakistan is not covered by these rules. In other words, the US has made clear it will continue to attack Pakistani tribal areas killing civilians without any rules or regulations. While Pakistani officials have protested against drone attacks calling them “unproductive,” and “unhelpful,” the fact is, such tepid official response has emboldened the US to continue with its operations. The drone strikes not only violate Pakistani sovereignty, whatever its worth, they also kill innocent people.
The US thinks it is above the law and among Pakistanis the US is the most hated country in the world. The Pew survey released in December 2012 showed that only 12 % of Pakistanis had a favorable view of the US.