Pakistan called for the immediate cessation of “illegal” US drone strikes on its territory, after a UN committee unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday that underscores the need for an international agreement on legal questions involving the use of remotely piloted aircraft.
“When armed drones kill unarmed, innocent civilians, there is a clear breach of international law,” Ambassador Masood Khan while explaining Pakistan’s position on the draft approved by the General Assembly Third Committee, which deals with Social, Humanitarian and Cultural questions.
Under the text, entitled “Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism”, the 193-member Assembly would take note of UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson’s interim report last month that referred to the use of remotely piloted aircraft.
The Assembly would also note the urgent and imperative need to seek agreement among Member States on legal questions pertaining to the use of remotely piloted aircraft.
Masood Khan said that while he had joined consensus, he was concerned that the text was not based on established international legal norms on the extra-territorial use of unmanned aerial systems.
At the same time, the Pakistani envoy said, “We appreciate that the resolution, for the first time, includes references to the use of unmanned aerial aircraft for counter-terrorism and emphasizes the urgent and imperative need to seek agreement between member states on the legal questions pertaining to such aircraft operations.”
He added, “The use of drones violates Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the asymmetric terrorist war, the well established humanitarian principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution must be observed. This is not being done.
“There is also obvious geographical disjunction between the location of drone strikes and the primary battlefield.”
A signature strike, the Pakistani envoy said, had to be justified under International Humanitarian Law or International Human Rights Law to prove that it was a legitimate act of self-defence. Legally, it was important to define the geographical scope of the conflict as well as the immediacy of the threat. “It is not justifiable to launch strikes in the context of non-international armed conflict in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.”
Drone strikes put all Pakistanis at risk, Masood Khan said, adding that their psychological impact on the relatives of civilians killed in an inhumane manner incites sentiment and hatred and radicalizes more people. “Drone strikes are therefore counterproductive in countering terrorism,” he added.
He hoped that Special Rapporteur Emmerson’s final report would suggest practical measures to advance the debate on the legality of the use of armed drones at the UN fora and focus more sharply on their disastrous humanitarian and human rights consequences.