Never approved drone strikes, Pakistan tells UN

Pakistan told a UN committee on Friday that drone strikes resulting in civilian casualties violate international law, and that Islamabad did not approve such attacks on its territory.

“It is not justifiable to launch strikes in the context of non-international armed conflict in Pakistan-Afghanistan border area,” Ambassador Masood Khan said while commenting on the seminal report by Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism.

Emmerson formally presented to the General Assembly’s Third (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) Committee on Friday his report on the use of armed drones in various parts of the world.

The Pakistani ambassador, while agreeing with Emmerson that the continued use of remotely piloted aircraft amounts to a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, took issue with the special rapporteur’s observation that “while the fact that civilians have been killed, or injured does not necessarily point to a violation of international humanitarian law, it undoubtedly raises issues of accountability and transparency.”

“We believe that civilian casualties as a result of the drone strikes do violate international humanitarian law, as well as international law and human rights law,” Masood Khan argued.

“The use of drones violates Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. “In the asymmetric terrorist war, the well-established humanitarian principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution must be observed. This is not being done.”

He moreover called for the immediate cessation of drone strikes on Pakistani territory.

Noting that there was no geographical disjunction between the location of drone strikes and primary battlefield, the Pakistani ambassador said, “A signature strike has to be justified under IHL (International Humanitarian Law) or IHRL (International Human Rights Law) to prove that it is a legitimate act of self-defense.

“Legally, it is important to define the geographical scope of the conflict. It is not justifiable to launch strikes in the context of non-international armed conflict in the context of Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.”

In Pakistan, he said, all drones strikes were a chilling reminder that reprisal strikes by terrorists are around the corner. “They put all Pakistanis at risk. The psychological impact of the use of drones on the relatives of civilians killed in an inhumane manner incites sentiment and hatred and radicalises more people.

“Drone strikes are therefore counterproductive,” the Pakistani ambassador added.

“No explicit or implicit consent, approval or acquiescence has been given by the Government of Pakistan for the drone strikes.”

Emmerson’s report alleges there is “strong evidence” to suggest that between June 2004 and June 2008 drone strikes in Pakistan were conducted “with the active consent and approval of senior members of the Pakistani military and intelligence service, and with at least the acquiescence and, in some instances, the active approval of senior government figures.”

Khan rejected the notion that the strikes were carried out with consent.

“Let me also state authoritatively that no explicit or implicit consent, approval or acquiescence has been given by the Government of Pakistan for the drone strikes,” said the Pakistani ambassador.

Masood Khan suggested to the rapporteur that there is no grey area in the use of armed drones when they kill innocent men, women and children. Killing unarmed, innocent civilians is a clear breach of international law.

“We call for the immediate cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan. This is a demand that has been made by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, our Parliament and the All Parties Conference.

“This is what Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif conveyed to President Obama during their meeting on October 23 in Washington and urged the United States to end drone strikes,” he added. “We hope that the US would respond to this urgent call from Pakistan anchored in international humanitarian law.”

Masood Khan urged the rapporteur to make stronger recommendations in his final report – his Friday’s report was initial – that will help enforce a more stringent, prohibitive regimen for the use of drones to save civilians from unforeseen, instant death, injury and disability.

Pakistan, he said, hoped that the final report would suggest practical measures to advance the debate on the legality of the use of armed drones at the UN and focus more sharply on their disastrous humanitarian and human rights consequences.

“Pakistan stands ready to contribute constructively to build international consensus on the legality of the use of drones,” Masood Khan said in conclusion.