US embarrassment “trumps British justice” in drone victim’s case
January 20, 2014
The Court of Appeal in London has today ruled that the case brought against the UK Government by a Pakistani victim of a drone strike cannot proceed as it might result in the “condemnation of the US by a court of this country.”
Noor Khan (28) lost his father, a local elder, to a 2011 drone strike on a local council meeting in North Waziristan, which had gathered to resolve a chromite mining dispute. After evidence emerged that the British intelligence agency, GCHQ, was supporting the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan, Mr Khan brought a judicial review in the British courts against the UK Government.
However, the Court of Appeal today ruled that, despite Mr Khan’s arguments being “persuasive,” they accepted the British Government’s claims that the case should not proceed as “a finding by our court that the notional UK operator of a drone bomb which caused a death was guilty of murder would inevitably be understood…by the US as a condemnation of the US.”
The court also noted that it was “not clear that the defence of combat immunity would be available to a UK national” tried for “murder by drone strike.” The comment came in response to arguments put forward by Mr Khan’s lawyers that the programme of strikes in Pakistan is illegal and that UK involvement could lead to UK officials facing murder charges.
Kat Craig, legal director at human rights charity Reprieve, which is supporting Mr Khan, said: “It is shameful that the risk of embarrassing the US has trumped British justice in this case. It now appears that the UK Government can get away with murder, provided it is committed alongside an ally who may be sensitive to public criticism. It is a sad day when the rights of civilian victims of drone strikes take second place to the PR concerns of the US Government.”
Noor Khan said: “I used to think that Britain stood for justice, but now it seems as though the Government has put itself above the law. However, I am still determined to get answers from the UK Government about the part they have played in the death of my father. The CIA’s drone programme has not only killed hundreds of civilians, but is turning people in Pakistan against the US and its allies. This is why I was so upset to hear that Britain is helping the CIA to carry out these killings, and even more upset when the government refused to respond to my questions.”
Rosa Curling from Leigh Day, which is representing Mr Khan said: “The court’s decision not to determine the lawfulness of our government’s involvement in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, deadly strikes which have killed many civilians over recent years including my client’s father, simply to spare the US government embarrassment is not only disappointing but also deeply worrying. The courts must have jurisdiction over the legality of our government’s action irrespective of whether they act alongside a foreign state or not.”
1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Further information on Mr Khan’s case can be found here: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/2012_03_28_noor_khan/ A copy of the judgement is available here.