Everyone from PTI to the Foreign Office has latched on to the new report by international human rights organization Amnesty International that criticises US drone policy in Pakistan calling it a vindication of anti-drone positions. In Washington, DC Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took the opportunity of the report’s release to repeat the call for end to drone strikes while media back home emphasise the report’s claim that some drone strikes could constitute war crimes. Does the Amnesty International report actually vindicate the positions of anti-drone campaigners like Imran Khan, though? Or are we once again missing the point.
A funny thing about reports such as Amnesty International’s is that they are very long and usually not very enticing to read. This is why most people don’t actually read them – even the people who say they do. Not that failing to read a report stops anyone from loudly and confidently declaring what the report says, though.
Take as an example the latest Amnesty International report that supposedly vindicates the anti-drone position and proves once and for all that America is the world’s terrorist and Pakistan is the innocent victim of Western imperialism. What does the report actually say?
The report does say that “Amnesty International is seriously concerned that these and other
strikes have resulted in unlawful killings that may constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes”. The operative word here is ‘may’ – an uncertainty. This is very different from accusing of war crimes. I may have eaten at Student Biryani yesterday. But I may not have. You don’t know. And that’s the point – uncertainty.
But the report does make some claims about war crimes with certainty. For example:
Armed groups operating in North Waziristan have been responsible for unlawful killings and other abuses constituting war crimes and other crimes under international law in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Pakistan has a very poor record of bringing these perpetrators to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty. Since the creation of Pakistan, North Waziristan and the rest of the Tribal Areas have been neglected and under-developed, and their residents do not enjoy key human rights protections under Pakistani and international law.
Where Amnesty International is uncertain whether any drone strikes constitute war crimes, they have no uncertainty about whether the actions of jihadi militants constitute war crimes. They also have no uncertainty about whether the government and military are failing to protect our own citizens from these war criminals. Somehow this got left out of PTI and Foreign Office press releases.
The real proof of pudding is in the eating, though, so let us look at what Amnesty International recommends. Surely, if drone strikes are killing countless innocent civilians and constitute war crimes, the human rights NGO would call for an end to the strikes, right? But they don’t. Let me tell you this very plainly because it’s important:
Amnesty International’s report does not call for an end to drone strikes.
So what do they call for? Mostly, transparency. They call for the American government and military to be more open about who they are targeting and why. They also call for the American government to investigate past claims of civilian deaths and to prosecute anyone found guilty of a crime.
Yes, yes, you’re saying, but aren’t you splitting hairs? Aren’t all of these transparency requirements and investigations meant to force the government to stop the attacks? Again, no, and this is clear from the final recommendation Amnesty International’s report makes to the American government:
- Cease so-called “rescuer attacks”
- Take measures to protect informants in Pakistan at risk of attack from armed groups and Pakistani forces.
Did you get that?
Take measures to protect informants in Pakistan from Pakistani forces.
If Amnesty International was calling for an end to all drone strikes, why would they single out only one type? And why would they then recommend that America do more to protect their informants?
It should also be noted that America was not the only country on the receiving end of Amnesty International’s recommendations. They also had some recommendations for our own government including these:
- Provide adequate access to justice and reparations for victims of attacks by Pakistan armed forces and ensure independent and impartial investigations into attacks that violate human rights. Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty the persons responsible for unlawful killings resulting from those attacks.
- Publicly disclose information on all US drone strikes that the Pakistani authorities are aware of, including casualties and all assistance provided to victims.
If politicians and media believe that they are vindicated by Amnesty International’s report, will there now be an APC to demand Pakistan military and intelligence officers be brought up on charges as Amnesty International recommends? Will the APC demand that the government and military publicly disclose all information about Pakistani cooperation with drone attacks?
Amnesty International’s report may be a minor inconvenience for the Americans, but it is worth hoping that it could result in greater openness and transparency about drone attacks. Ironically, if America actually accepts Amnesty International’s recommendations, it will probably result in something very different from vindication for those praising the report today.