Drone strikes illegal, whether consented to or not, says senior Pakistani judge

April 11, 2013

Graphic with children and drones

The Chief Justice of Peshawar’s High Court today stated that drone strikes in north west Pakistan violate the country’s sovereignty and are illegal regardless of whether they were consented to by members of the government.

Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan was presiding over a suit brought against the Pakistani government by victims of a 17 March 2011 drone strike, which killed upwards of 50 civilians who had met to resolve a chromite mining dispute.

He observed today  that, since there is no armed conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where the strikes are taking place, they are in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. As such, international human rights law applies and everyone killed by U.S. drone strikes are civilians.

He also addressed claims that Pervez Musharaf, during his time as Head of State, may have secretly consented to the strikes, stating that a political leader or a dictator cannot consent to drone strikes against its people by a foreign power and that any such consent was therefore both illegal and unconstitutional.

The parties to the suit are asking the court to hand down a writ ordering the government to protect the people of FATA through any means necessary. The Petitioner is also seeking remedies in form of compensation for the victims of drone strikes.

The Chief Justice is expected to hand down an order in the case soon. During the hearing, he considered a number of options, including whether American diplomats could be held personally responsible, or CIA staff be criminally liable for murder.

Reprieve Legal Fellow, Shahzad Akbar, who represents the victims in this case, welcomed the judge’s comments: “The judge’s observations reaffirm that under international law, a political leader cannot consent to the killing of his people. Such consent is illegal and prohibited by the Pakistani constitution. We are hopeful that the Peshawar High Court will soon provide justice for these civilian victims and bring an end to the drone’s daily terror.”


1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk