UN demands answers over civilian drones casualties

March 10, 2014

Image of drones

The UN expert overseeing the use of armed drones has demanded greater accountability and transparency by those states using them – including public investigations into allegations of civilian casualties.

Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, investigated 37 recent drone strikes in countries. In Yemen he noted a sharp rise in strikes and a “significant number” of civilian casualties since the end of 2013. His report cites the following cases, supported by legal charity Reprieve, as requiring prompt investigation:

A March 2011 strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan that killed Malik Daud Khan, whose son, Noor Khan, has taken legal action against the UK government; a strike in October 2011 on a car and a house in North Waziristan, Pakistan that killed Tariq Aziz and Waheed Ullah, two teenagers on their way to play football; an October 2012 strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan that killed Mammana Bibi, a 67-year-old grandmother, as she picked vegetables in the field by her home; the August 2012 killing of Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, an imam who preached against al-Qaeda, and his nephew, a local policeman, in Hadhramout, Yemen; a September 2012 airstrike on a bus in Radaa, Yemen that killed 11 civilians, including a pregnant woman and three children; a December 2013 strike on a wedding party in Radaa, Yemen that killed 12 civilians.

Emmerson’s findings come as pressure builds on the US and European countries involved in the covert CIA-led programme. The US is currently under review by the UN’s Human Rights Committee (HRC) on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – Article 6 of which enshrines the right to life. Meanwhile, the European Parliament last week condemned the use of drones, and called for countries like the UK and Germany to disclose their role in supporting the strikes.

In Yemen, where the national parliament recently voted to outlaw drone strikes, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, brother-in-law of killed imam Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, said: “President Obama’s drone strikes killed my nephew and my brother-in-law Salem; a man who was famed for his sermons denouncing al-Qaeda. What possible justification could there be for these strikes? I hope that this new report will finally encourage the US and its allies to provide some answers.”

Rafiq Rehman, the son of victim Mammana Bibi, said:  “Drone strikes in Pakistan have devastated my family and brought only fear and suffering to my community; yet we still have had no explanation as to why they happened, and who was responsible. I still hope that we might one day see justice and an end to these catastrophic strikes in Pakistan.”

Kat Craig, Legal Director at Reprieve, said: “In Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, the US, assisted by its European allies, is carrying out devastating attacks with total impunity – a practice that is terrorising local communities, and creating far more extremism than it has ever eliminated. It is high time that the US provided full accountability and transparency around its use of drones, and investigated civilian casualties. This report will only increase pressure on the US to bring their covert programme out of the shadows.”

ENDS   Notes to editors   1. For further information, please contact Clemency Wells or Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8161 / 8166 or clemency.wells / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk