The US drone war in Pakistan is illegal because it violates Pakistani sovereignty, according to the head of a United Nations team investigating civilian casualties from drone strikes.
Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, secretly visited Pakistan with a team of investigators and found that Pakistani authorities do not consent to drone strikes on their territory, contrary to claims made by US 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.”
“As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. 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 added.
Emmerson said Pakistani authorities told him they have confirmed at least 400 civilian deaths by US drones in Pakistani territory. They also told him they “consider the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.”
Emmerson, along with several other colleagues at the UN, formally announced an investigation into civilian casualties in US drone strikes last year, warning that some US drone strikes in Pakistan may amount to war crimes.
In a speech at Harvard Univesity, he said: “If the relevant states are not willing to establish effective independent monitoring mechanisms…then it may in the last resort be necessary for the UN to act.”
“The global war paradigm has done immense damage to a previously shared international consensus on the legal framework underlying both international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” Emmerson explained. “It has also given a spurious justification to a range of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations.”
“[It is] alleged that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. Christof Heyns…has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.”
Citing reports that the US has conducted follow-up drone strikes, Heyns, another US special rapporteur, said in June that, if true, “those further attacks are a war crime.”
The probability that these UN investigations alone will rein in the Obama administration’s ruthless expansion of the drone war is low, but they will serve to heighten public pressure in a political climate where the drone war is receiving increased attention.