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Rights Group Slams U.S. On Drone Strikes


A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (file photo)
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (file photo)
A new report by rights watchdog Amnesty International says that some U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan could amount to war crimes.

The report -- titled "'Will I Be Next?' U.S. Drone Strikes In Pakistan" -- alleges that Washington has carried out unlawful killings through drone strikes in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas, close to the Afghan border.

Amnesty's Pakistan researcher, Mustafa Qadri, said that the "secrecy surrounding the drones program gives the U.S. administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law."

He called on Washington to "come clean about the drones program and hold those responsible for these violations to account."

The United States has defended the use of drone strikes as a key weapon against terrorists and insurgent groups, with U.S. President Barack Obama saying in May that such strikes were "effective," "legal," and "heavily constrained."

After the Amnesty International report and criticism on the same topic from Human Rights Watch (HRW), the United States defended the use of drones against terrorist suspects and rejected claims that it had violated international law. White House spokesman Jay Carney added that Washington was reviewing the reports on civilian deaths in the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

U.S.-based HRW alleges that six "unacknowledged" U.S. strikes on targets in Yemen killed 82 people, including 57 civilians.

Amnesty International spokesman Olof Blomqvist says its report reviewed 45 known drone strikes in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, which has been the scene of most U.S. drone strikes in the country.

Civilian Casualties

Blomqvist told RFE/RL that their research revealed that many drone-strike victims were civilians who were not associated with armed groups working in the region and posed no threat to U.S. security.

"The big picture is that it is difficult to put a percentage on how many civilians have been killed in drone strikes," he said. "But the cases we have covered in our report should be enough to ring warning bells and raise serious questions about whether the U.S. has violated the international law through its drones program."

Civilian casualties have been all too common in Pakistani military operations that began in 2003 to remove the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from North Waziristan and six more tribal districts in 2003.

Blomqvist says their report paints a "bleak and cruel" picture of the daily reality in the tribal regions.

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"They live in a region where they don't have the same human rights protections as people do in the rest of Pakistan -- where they are constantly afraid of drones hovering above them in the sky," Blomqvist told RFE/RL. "The army indiscriminately shells villages in the armed conflict against the Taliban and where the Taliban carry out mass bombings."

Activists estimate that more than 300 drone strikes have killed more than 2,000 people in Pakistan, including senior Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders, since 2004.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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