Drones: A definite violation of our sovereignty

Published: July 27, 2013

LAHORE: This is with reference to Neha Ansari’s article of July 24 titled “Drones not a violation of our sovereignty”.

US drone strikes in Pakistan breach the key humanitarian principle of distinguishing between combatants and civilians in times of armed conflict and have made a mockery of international law. Independent sources report that these strikes have killed as many as 3,549 people and that at least 197 of these were children. Even if we ignore the moral facet of this debate, there is much to say when we turn to the legal one.

Neither the Abbottabad Commission Report, nor cables leaked through WikiLeaks suggesting an agreement on the part of the Pakistan government towards drone strikes in private, prove that drones are not a violation of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty. This is because of two reasons. Firstly, under international law, a state can never give open-ended consent to another state to attack its citizens, especially when such action is not approved by the UN Security Council, as per the requirement in Article 51 of the UN Charter concerning legitimate self-defence. This was clearly pointed out in the case “Democratic Republic of the Congo vs Uganda (Judgment, ICJ Reports 2005). Secondly, the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, and in particular, the ‘right to life’ is inviolable and cannot be taken away or contracted out to a foreign state by the sovereign. On this point, the Honourable Kaikus J in Government of Pakistan vs Akhlaq Hussain said, “Citizens of Pakistan cannot contract themselves out of the various fundamental rights which the Constitution grants them.”

On April 12, 2012, the Parliament’s Committee on National Security (PCNS) presented its guidelines to the government on matters of national security which were unanimously adopted by both houses of parliament. It says in its Clause 2 that “the Government needs to ensure that the principles of an independent foreign policy must be grounded in strict adherence to the Principles of Policy as stated in Article 40 of the Constitution of Pakistan, the UN Charter and observance of international law. The US footprint in Pakistan must be reviewed. This means 1) an immediate cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan, 2) the cessation of infiltration into Pakistani territory on any pretext, including hot pursuit; 3) Pakistani territory including its air space shall not be used for transportation of arms and ammunition to Afghanistan.”

One also cannot escape Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. On May 9, 2013, the Peshawar High Court in the case titled Foundation for Fundamental Rights vs Federation of Pakistan & four others, said that by repeatedly carrying out drone strikes within the sovereign territory of Pakistan resulting in the loss of lives and property, America was violating Pakistan’s territorial integrity which is a breach of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter amongst several other international conventions. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” Other conventions such as the United Nations Millennium Declaration, Resolution No 55/2 adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 18, 2000, and the UN General Assembly Resolution 2625 (XXV) “Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations” also clearly says the same thing with regard to sovereignty.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan needs to step up in regard to these illegal drone strikes, foremost, by implementing the significant PHC decision and taking the issue to the UN General Assembly and also by shooting down the drones in the face of continuation of these strikes. In Iran, a US RQ-170 Sentinel drone was brought down in December 2011 and there is no reason why the Pakistani armed forced should not follow suit in shooting down US drones which are taking Pakistani lives.

If it does not take these actions, the government can be held accountable for contempt of court and not protecting its own citizens from these drone strikes. But as far as the issue of sovereignty is concerned, it cannot be stated that the US is not blatantly flouting hundreds of years of international law in pelting Pakistani citizens with drone missiles in Pakistan’s own territory.

Mariam Kizilbash

Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2013.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (7)

  • numbersnumbers
    Jul 28, 2013 - 9:17AM

    WOW, Since when is the FATA region part of “Sovereign” Pakistan???
    Hmmm, lets see, the writ of the government does not exist there, and the region is ruled by the “Good Taliban”/Militants types who have signed peace deals with the government (saying that they will only kill people in other countries I believe)!!!
    If a country cannot control its own territory that is being used by armed groups that attack other countries, then all presence of “sovereignty” is lost!
    As for drone strikes themselves, they would not be possible without forward target spotters (ISI agents???) in the immediate area who have identified the target(s) before hand and passed that target information on!
    Ever notice how almost every drone strike ground report says something like “according to government agents (those pesky ISI target spotters again), (armed) militants have cordoned off the target site and have removed the bodies for burial elsewhere”!!!


  • Mir
    Jul 28, 2013 - 2:31PM

    wake up Fata is part of Pakistan. If there were no drones we would have been slaves of TTP.
    God bless America.


  • shorkot
    Jul 28, 2013 - 5:25PM

    Brilliant article/letter


  • Solomon2
    Jul 28, 2013 - 6:37PM

    “This was clearly pointed out in the case “Democratic Republic of the Congo vs Uganda”

    The analogy doesn’t apply. In the Uganda case the ICJ pointed out that Uganda had never filed a report with the Security Council claiming that Ugandan forces in Congo were acting in self-defence. That’s very different from the U.S. case as the 9/11 attacks were discussed there and Resolutions passed as a result.

    “the ‘right to life’ is inviolable and cannot be taken away or contracted out to a foreign state by the sovereign…by repeatedly carrying out drone strikes within the sovereign territory of Pakistan resulting in the loss of lives and property, America was violating Pakistan’s territorial integrity which is a breach of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter -“

    Leaving aside the dysfunctional nature of Pakistani government that makes a citizen’s ‘right to life’ questionable in practice, under post-9/11 U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373 as long as a state contains areas under exclusive terrorist control it has no claims to sovereignty when other states attack the terrorists there.

    Thus the arguments mentioned in this letter are not enough to establish drone strikes – or any other invasion of “Pakistani” territory with the purpose of attacking terrorists – as illegal. A firmer legal approach would be international humanitarian law, claiming that the attacks are indiscriminate. Unfortunately for proponents of that approach, the evidence is that by far the majority of drone strikes are carefully targeted at militants. Recent claims otherwise don’t hold water, as at least one attack with large numbers of civilian casualties officially blamed on a drone strike (Chenagai) can logically be traced to Pakistani military activity, followed by a cover-up afterwards.
    An argument based on a lie is itself a lie.


  • Sexton Blake
    Jul 29, 2013 - 1:56AM

    At last. Somebody writing an article about drones which has a note of sanity and logic in it. Extremely good article. It could have been improved by commenting, in a clearer fashion, upon the continual criminal acts which emanate from Washington on an almost daily basis, but on the whole explained the illegality of US activities quite well.


  • lodhi
    Jul 29, 2013 - 6:32AM

    Thanks to drones. Many leaders of terrorists have been killed.If alive they would have killed thousands of more innocent Pakistan is by now.


  • Dr.A.K.Tewari
    Jul 29, 2013 - 7:32PM

    Drone is a device developed by international scientists to counter international terrorism and their supporters . Those nations giving shelter to these elements can not enjoy the protection of UN laws . Since rights are always preceded by responsibility .


More in Letters