ISLAMABAD: While the US secretary of state defended Washington’s use of drone strikes to kill suspected militants in Pakistan, the United Nations on Thursday called for a probe into the strikes — categorically questioning their legality and saying they kill innocent civilians.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay – who made the remarks at the end of a four-day visit to the country – said at a press conference: “Drone attacks do raise serious questions about compliance with international law”.
“I stress the importance of investigating such cases and ensuring compensation to these victims.
“The principle of distinction and proportionality and ensuring accountability for any failure to comply with international law is also difficult when drone attacks are conducted outside the military chain of command and beyond effective and transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control,” she said.
She said the attacks violate human rights. “I see the indiscriminate killings and injuries of civilians in any circumstances as human rights violations.”
The UN human rights chief provided no statistics but called for an investigation into civilian casualties, which she said were difficult to track.
“Because these attacks are indiscriminate it is very, very difficult to track the numbers of people who have been killed,” she said.
“I suggested to the government that they invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions and he will be able to investigate some of the incidents.”
She said UN chief Ban Ki-moon had also urged states to be “more transparent” about circumstances in which drones are used and take necessary precautions to ensure that the attacks involving drones comply with applicable international law.
Human rights and torture
During her first visit to Pakistan, the high commissioner also met with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, President Asif Ali Zardari, advisers on human rights and national harmony, minister for foreign affairs and the chief justice.
Pillay said that the government had assured her that a draft on torture will be completed soon and could be adopted by the National Assembly in as little as three months.
“It is essential that a clear definition of torture and the fact that it is a crime under any circumstances must be enshrined in national laws if the practice is to be eradicated,” she said.
Pillay added that the overall picture of women’s rights in Pakistan, especially in rural areas, remained grim.
“The Kohistan jirga case illustrates another of Pakistan’s major problems. I urge authorities to redouble their efforts to improve the situation for girls and women in all areas and increase literacy rate particularly in the tribal areas.
Regarding unrest in Balochistan, she stated: “The issue of (enforced) disappearances in Balochistan has become a focus of national debate, international attention and local despair, and I encourage the government and judiciary to investigate and resolve these cases.”
Clinton backs use of drones
In Istanbul, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implicitly defended Washington’s use of drone strikes to kill suspected militants.
“We will always maintain our right to use force against groups such as al Qaeda that have attacked us and still threaten us with imminent attack,” Clinton said.
“In doing so, we will comply with the applicable law, including the laws of war, and go to extraordinary lengths to ensure precision and avoid the loss of innocent life,” she told the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a US- and Turkish-chaired group.
Clinton also told the conference that torture and abuse were never acceptable in combating terrorism — but made no mention of the US use of interrogation techniques. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP, REUTERS)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2012.