Rights groups urge US to end secrecy on drone attacks

Rights groups urge US to end secrecy on drone attacks
The RQ-4 Global Hawk drone aircraft. Drone activity was observed at French nuclear power plants across the country between October 12 and October 20.

ISLAMABAD - The United States should end the secrecy surrounding its drone campaign in Pakistan and Yemen and bring those responsible for illegal attacks to justice, rights campaigners said Tuesday.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) published separate reports on drones on the eve of White House talks between US President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, at which the weapons are expected to be discussed.

Amnesty highlighted two drone attacks in northwest Pakistan last year, one of which killed a 68-year-old grandmother as she picked vegetables, saying there appeared to be no justification for either.

The US has carried out nearly 400 drone attacks in Pakistan's restive tribal districts along the Afghan border since 2004, killing between 2,500 and 3,600 people, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Washington says they are an important and effective tool in the fight against militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, who have strongholds in the tribal areas. But critics say hundreds of innocent civilians have died in the strikes.

Amnesty said that without more transparency it was impossible to test US claims that the attacks conform to international law.

"Secrecy surrounding the drones programme gives the US administration a licence to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law," said Mustafa Qadri, the group's Pakistan researcher.

US President Barack Obama mounted a defence of the drone war in May as legal and just and the best way to counter terror plots against Americans.

But they are very unpopular in Pakistan, where the government condemns them publicly as counterproductive and a violation of sovereignty.

Amnesty's drone report published Tuesday focused on 45 confirmed strikes in the North Waziristan tribal agency between January 2012 and August 2013.

The campaign group highlighted two incidents that it said raised serious concerns about violations of international law.

The first was the death of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi in a double strike as she picked vegetables in the family's fields in October 2012.

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