Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports on drone strikes

Amnesty International has recently released a report on US drone strikes in Pakistan. This report is not a comprehensive survey of US drone strikes in Pakistan; it is a qualitative assessment based on detailed field research into nine of the 45 reported strikes that occurred in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency between January 2012 and August 2013 and a survey of publicly available information on all reported drone strikes in Pakistan over that period.

The report highlights incidents in which men, women and children appear to have been unlawfully killed or injured. The circumstances of civilian deaths from drone strikes in northwest Pakistan are disputed. The USA, which refuses to release detailed information about individual strikes, claims that its drone operations are based on reliable intelligence, are extremely accurate, and that the vast majority of people killed in such strikes are members of armed groups such as the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. Critics claim that drone strikes are much less discriminating, have resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, and foster animosity that increases recruitment into the very groups the USA seeks to eliminate.

According to NGO and Pakistan government sources, the USA has launched some 330 to 374 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and September 2013. Amnesty International is not in a position to endorse these figures, but according to these sources, between 400 and 900 civilians have been killed in these attacks and at least 600 people seriously injured.

By examining these attacks in detail, Amnesty International seeks to shed light on a secretive program of surveillance and killings occurring in one of the most dangerous, neglected and inaccessible regions of the world. Based on its review of incidents over the last two years, Amnesty International is seriously concerned that these strikes have resulted in unlawful killings that may constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes. The full report is available here.

Human Rights Watch has also released a report on drone strikes in Yemen. According to Human Rights Watch, United States targeted airstrikes against alleged terrorists in Yemen have killed civilians in violation of international law. The report, “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda’: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen”, examines six US targeted killings in Yemen, one from 2009 and the rest from 2012-2013. Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the other incidents may have violated the laws of war because the individual attacked was not a legitimate military target or the attack caused disproportionate civilian deaths.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are jointly calling on the US Congress to fully investigate the cases the two organisations have documented as well as other potentially unlawful strikes, and to disclose any evidence of human rights violations to the public. Those responsible for unlawful killings should be appropriately disciplined or prosecuted.

Sources: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch