JNN 17 Mar 2013 UN Washington : The United States has violated Pakistan’s sovereignty and shattered tribal structures with unmanned drone strikes in its counterterrorism operations near the Afghan border, a UN human rights investigator said in a statement on Friday.
UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, visited Pakistan for three days this week as part of his investigation into the civilian impact of the use of drones and other forms of targeted killings.
“As a matter of international law, the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan is … being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate Government of the State,” Emmerson said in a statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
“It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” he said.
Emmerson said in January he would investigate 25 drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories. He is expected to present his final report to the UN General Assembly in October.
Washington had little to say about Emmerson’s statement.
“We’ve seen his press release. I’m obviously not going to speak about classified information here,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We have a strong ongoing counterterrorism dialogue with Pakistan and that will continue.”
Spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House would withhold judgment until it sees Emmerson’s full report.
“We have a solid working relationship with them (Pakistan) on a range of issues, including a close cooperative security relationship, and we’re in touch with them on a regular basis on those issues.”
‘End military interference’
Emmerson said the Pashtun tribes of northwestern Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, Pakistan’s largely lawless region bordering Afghanistan, have been decimated by the counterterrorism operations.
“These proud and independent people have been self-governing for generations, and have a rich tribal history that has been too little understood in the West,” he said. “Their tribal structures have been broken down by the military campaign in FATA and by the use of drones in particular.”
The tribal areas have never been fully integrated into Pakistan’s administrative, economic or judicial system. They are dominated by ethnic Pashtun tribes.
Most, but not all, attacks with unmanned aerial vehicles have been by the United States. Britain and Israel have also used them, and dozens of other countries are believed to possess the technology.
“It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other states,” Emmerson said.
The UN Human Rights Council asked Emmerson to start an investigation of the drone attacks following requests by countries including Pakistan, Russia and China.
Criticism of drone strikes centers on the number of civilians killed and the fact that they are launched across sovereign states’ borders so frequently, far more than conventional attacks by piloted aircraft.
Retired U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who devised the U.S.counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, warned in January against overusing drones, which have provoked angry demonstrations in Pakistan.
Civilian casualties from drone strikes have angered local populations and created tension between the United States and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Washington has sought to portray civilian casualties as minimal, but groups collecting data on these attacks say they have killed hundreds of civilians.
Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said the Pakistani government made clear to him that it does not consent to the strikes.
U.S. President Barack Obama has stepped up covert CIA drone strikes targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghan border since he took office in 2009.
The strikes have caused growing controversy because of the secrecy surrounding them and claims that they have caused significant civilian casualties.
According to a UN statement that Emmerson emailed to The Associated Press on Friday, the Pakistani government told him it has confirmed at least 400 civilian deaths by U.S. drones on its territory. The statement was initially released on Thursday, following the investigator’s three-day visit to Pakistan, which ended on Wednesday. The visit was kept secret until Emmerson left.
Imtiaz Gul, an expert on Pakistani militancy who is helping Emmerson’s team, said Friday that the organization he runs, the Center for Research and Security Studies, gave the UN investigator during his visit case studies on 25 strikes that allegedly killed around 200 civilians.
The UN investigation into civilian casualties from drone strikes and other targeted killings in Pakistan and several other countries was launched in January and is expected to deliver its conclusions in October.
The U.S. rarely discusses the strikes in public because of their covert nature. But a few senior officials, including CIA chief John Brennan, have publicly defended the strikes, saying precision weapons help avoid significant civilian casualties.
Pakistani officials regularly criticize the attacks in public as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, a popular position in a country where anti-American sentiment runs high.
But the reality has been more complicated in the past.
For many years, Pakistan allowed U.S. drones to take off from bases within the country. Documents released by WikiLeaks in 2010 showed that senior Pakistani officials consented to the strikes in private to U.S. diplomats, while at the same time condemning them in public.
Cooperation has certainly waned since then as the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. has deteriorated. In 2011, Pakistan kicked the U.S. out of an air base used by American drones in the country’s southwest, in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
But U.S. officials have insisted that cooperation has not ended altogether and key Pakistani military officers and civilian politicians continue to consent to the strikes. The officials have spoken on condition of anonymity because of the covert nature of the drone program.
However, Emmerson, the UN investigator, came away with a black and white view after his meetings with Pakistani officials.
“The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear,” said Emmerson. “It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The drone campaign “involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” he said.
Pakistan claimed the drone strikes were radicalizing a new generation of militants and said it was capable of fighting the war against Islamist extremism in the country by itself, said Emmerson.
A major reason why the U.S. has stepped up drone attacks in Pakistan is because it has failed to convince the government to target Taliban militants using its territory to launch cross-border attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
Emmerson met with a variety of Pakistani officials during his visit, as well as tribal leaders from the North Waziristan tribal area — the main target for U.S. drones in the country — and locals who claimed they were injured by the attacks or had lost loved ones.
The tribal leaders said innocent tribesmen were often mistakenly targeted by drones because they were indistinguishable from Taliban militants, said Emmerson. Both groups wear the same traditional tribal clothing and normally carry a gun at all times, he said.
“It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other states,” said Emmerson.