UN Counter-Terrorism Expert meets victims of drone strikes in Waziristan and receives clear statement from the Government of Pakistan that it considers US drone strikes to be counter-productive, contrary to international law, and a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity
ISLAMABAD (14 March 2013) – UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson on Thursday issued the following statement following his visit to Islamabad between 11 and 13 March 2013:
The UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson, conducted a three-day visit to Islamabad, Pakistan between 11 and 13 March 2013. This visit took place in connection with the Special Rapporteur's ongoing inquiry into the civilian impact of the use of drones and other forms of targeted killing in the context of counter-terrorism operations.
During the course of the visit the Special Rapporteur met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Human Rights and other relevant entities including a senior representative of the Secretariat of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production. He is particularly grateful for the assistance that was provided by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar and by the Foreign Secretary during his meetings with them.
The Special Rapporteur regrets that he did not have the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Pakistan Military or the ISI. However, he was informed that their position would be adequately reflected by consultations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence.
Separately, the Special Rapporteur met with lawyers representing individuals and groups who have brought legal proceedings in Pakistan in connection with the use of drones in counter-terrorism operations in the FATA. He also met with a group of tribal leaders (Maliks) from North Waziristan who had been selected to form a delegation to meet the Special Rapporteur as the result of a tribal Shura specially convened for the purpose. In addition, he met with a group of direct and indirect victims of drone strikes, including individuals who had suffered serious physical injuries, individuals who had witnessed fatal drone strikes, and individuals who had lost family members in such strikes. He also met with a senior judge of the Peshawar High Court familiar with the issues, a number of opposition politicians, journalists and civil society representatives.
The Special Rapporteur is grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for facilitating his visit, and for the helpful co-operation he received from all officials and Government representatives.
During the visit, the Government emphasized its consistently-stated position that drone strikes on its territory are counter-productive, contrary to international law, a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that they should cease immediately.
The Special Rapporteur was informed by the Government that Pakistan does not consider the situation in FATA to amount to an armed conflict (whether international or non-international). To the contrary, Pakistan considers that its own military forces operating in the region are engaged in a law enforcement operation aimed at countering terrorism in support of the civilian administration.
The Government, including the Foreign Minister, emphasised to the Special Rapporteur that the principal threat posed by the Pakistani Taleban (TTP) and other terrorist groupings operating in FATA is directed at military and civilian targets of Pakistan itself and that the country has sustained very heavy losses and damage through acts of terrorism.
Official figures showed that nearly seven thousand Pakistani soldiers and policemen had been killed in acts of terrorism and that the total death toll, including civilian victims of terrorism, was over 40,000 people.
The Government informed the Special Rapporteur that the total economic cost of the struggle against terrorism in Pakistan over the last decade has been nearly $70 billion. The Government emphasised that its commitment to ethical, effective, sustainable and lasting solutions to the problem of terrorism on its territory was a matter of the greatest national important and among the highest priorities of Government.
In order to achieve this, the Government informed the Special Rapporteur that Pakistan is committed to an effective counter-terrorism strategy that combines law enforcement with dialogue and development in an effort to tackle not only the manifestations of terrorism, but also its root causes in the region.
The Special Rapporteur was informed that Pakistan considers that its own democratically elected civilian Government, aided by its law enforcement agencies and military forces, are best placed to judge how to achieve a lasting peace in the region, and that interference by other States in this process has been, and continues to be, counter-productive to those efforts.
The Foreign Minister and her staff, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry of Human Rights underlined to the Special Rapporteur that Pakistan is committed to and capable of dealing effectively with the threat of terrorism in FATA using its own resources and pursuant to its own local knowledge and integrated counter-terrorism strategy. The Special Rapporteur was informed in the clearest possible terms that Pakistan's Government and Parliament unequivocally rejects any suggestion that its authorities and armed forces, acting together, are either “unable or unwilling” to tackle the problem of terrorism effectively on the sovereign territory of Pakistan.
The Government emphasised that the Pakistani military has more than 145,000 ground troops stationed in FATA as well as air-borne resources at its disposal in the region. It was pointed out that the Government, acting under Article 245 of the Constitution of Pakistan, has adopted regulations governing the deployment of military force in FATA in support of the civilian authorities, which include provision for temporary internment on national security grounds, subject to judicial review by an independent commission.
Taken together with its broader strategy of engaging militant groups in dialogue, and the provision of development assistance to the tribal communities in FATA, the Government considers that it has the necessary legal, law enforcement and military resources at its disposal to tackle the issue of militant groups operating in FATA in a manner which is effective and which respects local tribal affiliations and traditions, with a view to building a sustainable route to peace in the region. The Special Rapporteur was informed that the Government and Parliament of Pakistan both reject and resent any suggestion that Pakistan's commitment to this objective is anything other than resolute.
Officials stated that reports of continuing tacit consent by Pakistan to the use of drones on its territory by any other State are false, and confirmed that a thorough search of Government records had revealed no indication of such consent having been given. Officials also pointed to public statements by Pakistan at the United Nations emphasizing this position and calling for an immediate end to the use of drones by any other State on the territory of Pakistan.
In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the Special Rapporteur that since mid-2010 (and to date) the Government has regularly sent Notes Verbales to the US Embassy in Islamabad protesting the use of drones on the territory of Pakistan and emphasizing that Pakistan regards these strikes as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and requiring the US to cease these strikes immediately. The Ministry informed the Special Rapporteur that these concerns were expressed in the context of a longstanding bilateral relationship and dialogue with the US that includes positive cooperation across a broad range of issues.
Officials also drew attention to a series of resolutions passed by both Houses of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) calling for an end to the use of drones. The most recent of these resolutions, dated 12 April 2012, was unanimously adopted by a joint session of both Houses and is entitled Guidelines for Revised Terms of Engagement with the USA/NATO/ISAF and General Foreign Policy. The resolution begins with a statement that relations between Pakistan and the USA should be based upon mutual respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of each other, and inter alia (a) calls for an immediate cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan; (b) reaffirms Pakistan's commitment to the elimination of terrorism and combating extremism in its own national interest; (c) provides that neither the Government nor any of its component entities may enter into verbal agreements with any other foreign Government or authority regarding national security; (d) provides that any such agreements previously entered into should forthwith cease to have effect; and (e) provides that any such agreements should, in the future, be subject to scrutiny by specified Ministries and Parliamentary bodies and then announced through a Ministerial statement in Parliament. The resolution also calls on the international community to recognize the human and economic losses caused to Pakistan by the so-called “war on terror” and affirms that “[i]n the battle for hearts and minds an inclusive process based on primacy of dialogue” which “respect[s] local customs, traditions, values and religious beliefs” should be adopted.
A number of Governmental and non-Governmental sources pointed out that despite this (and previous) clearly-worded resolutions passed by a democratically-elected legislature, drone strikes on the territory of Pakistan continued unabated. Several sources pointed out that Pakistan's democracy is fragile, and that the upcoming general election marks the first occasion in Pakistan’s history when it will undergo a fully democratic transition of authority from one civilian government to another.
These sources suggested that the continued deployment of drones in the FATA, despite clear Parliamentary resolutions calling for them to cease, had the capacity to undermine public confidence in the democratic process in Pakistan.
The Special Rapporteur was informed that according to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there have been at least 330 drone strikes on the territory of Pakistan since 2004. Records showed that the total number of deaths caused by drone strikes was at least 2,200 that in addition at least 600 people had suffered serious injuries. Officials pointed out that efforts to identify the exact number of deceased (and therefore to establish the exact number of civilian deaths) were hampered by security concerns and by topographical and institutional obstacles to effective and prompt investigation on the ground by officials working on behalf of the FATA Secretariat, as well as by the cultural tradition of Pashtun tribes in the FATA region to bury their dead as soon as possible.
Nonetheless the Special Rapporteur was informed that the Government has been able to confirm that at least 400 civilians had been killed as a result of drone strikes, and that a further 200 individuals were regarded as probable non-combatants. Officials indicated that due to under-reporting and obstacles to effective investigation on the ground these figures were likely to be under-estimates of the number of civilian deaths.
The Special Rapporteur requested further information on the methodology for the compilation of these statistics and their disaggregation but this information was not immediately available. A senior representative of the FATA Secretariat however informed the Special Rapporteur that when the FATA was alerted to a drone strike involving potential civilian casualties, investigations were carried out, so far as possible, to confirm whether the dead and injured were indeed non-combatants and he stated that the figures supplied to the Special Rapporteur reflected this.
In discussions with the delegation of tribal Maliks from North Waziristan the Special Rapporteur was informed that drone strikes routinely inflicted civilian casualties, and that groups of adult males carrying out ordinary daily tasks were frequently the victims of such strikes. They emphasized that to an outsider unfamiliar with Pashtun tribal customs there was a very real risk of misidentification of targets since all Pashtun tribesmen tended to have similar appearance to members of the Pakistan Taliban, including similar (and often indistinguishable) tribal clothing, and since it had long been a tradition among the Pashtun tribes that all adult males would carry a gun at all times. They considered that civilian casualties were a commonplace occurrence and that the threat of such strikes instilled fear in the entire community.
They emphasized that drone attacks had fractured their existing tribal structures, and destroyed their way of life. They also pointed out that their local tribal law, the Pashtunwali, prescribed revenge for the loss of a life and that this entrenched tribal tradition had given rise to a desire, particularly among young men, to seek revenge for the drone strikes, thus radicalizing a new generation.
This assessment was confirmed by the Ministry of Human Rights. In the course of preparing for Pakistan's Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council the Human Rights Ministry held consultations in March 2012 aimed at assessing whether drone strikes had increased radicalization in the FATA. Their findings, though largely anecdotal, supported the conclusion that the strikes were frequently cited as a source of radicalization to violent extremism amongst younger Pashtun males, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence and providing support for the Government's position that such strikes are counter-productive.
The Special Rapporteur is extremely grateful to all the individuals who came forward to provide information relevant to the inquiry, in particular those who had been injured or lost family members in drone strikes and who had travelled from North Waziristan to meet with him. He was impressed by their testimony. Their accounts will be reflected, along with the other evidence compiled, in the Special Rapporteur's final report to the United Nations.
Speaking at the end of his visit, the Special Rapporteur said:
"The position of the Government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate Government of the State. It involves the use of force on the territory of another State without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region. Pakistan has called on the US to cease its campaign immediately. In a direct challenge to the suggested legal justification for these strikes, the Government of Pakistan has also made it quite clear during these discussions that any suggestion that it is "unwilling or unable" to combat terrorism on its own territory is not only wrong, but is an affront to the many Pakistani victims of terrorism who have lost their lives. Based on its direct knowledge of local conditions, Pakistan aims to a sustainable counter-terrorism strategy that involves dialogue and development in this complex region and that tackles not only the manifestations of terrorism but also its root causes. The people of Pakistan need to be given room to develop this strategy. The Pashtun tribes of the FATA area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign. These proud and independent people have been self-governing for generations, and have a rich tribal history that has been too little understood in the West. Their tribal structures have been broken down by the military campaign in FATA and by the use of drones in particular. It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States."