(First Published On Personal Blog 10/11/2012)
One of the remarks often levelled at foreign journalists and human rights activists is the lack of reporting on drone victims in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. This is sadly the case due to the difficulties of entering Waziristan, a “no go” area for international journalists due to internal conflict, (denial of a visa even to enter Pakistan at times, let alone Waziristan) and ongoing security issues. Thank goodness for the courage of Tribal Area journalists reporting on drone strikes who recently received a human rights award for from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) “for consolidating media freedom in one on the world’s most dangerous regions” http://www.dw.de/germanys-fes-honors-pakistans-tribal-journalists/a-16326404
It is interesting to note that bombing of Waziristan is nothing new, the following is a British Royal Air Force (RAF) 1924 directive on “air policing” of the region, “in warfare against savage tribes who do not conform to codes of civilized warfare, aerial bombardment is not necessarily limited in its methods or objectives by rules agreed upon in international law”http://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/The-Bombing-of-Waziristan.html It’s a chilling statement and no different in my opinion to US policy today regarding drone strikes, hence recent legal attempts to investigate whether killing by drone and assisting with intelligence leading to strikes amount to a war crimehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/23/uk-support-us-drones-pakistan-war-crime
Often, we know so little about those killed or injured during targeted killing operations. It is not enough to only refer to deaths of “alleged” militants without proper identification of those killed in drone strikes and to have no official recording of those termed as “other” the civilian casualties. Back in September, politician Imran Khan called on the US to reveal drone victims. In an interview with Channel 4 News, he stated,
“if the strikes are as accurate as being suggested, the identities of the victims should be disclosed for the world to see the efficacy of the drones in eliminating terrorists. We believe that these strikes are killing people indiscriminately, complete media censorship and non disclosure of victim identities supports our assertion.”
I agree with Mr Khan’s words, I also believe that it is important to set up an official register of civilian victims and their families within Pakistan itself (if one is not already in existence) which is possible with the goodwill of authorities and the relevant support and training to help accurately record those affected. What types of recording do we have so far? There is the personal testament of victims and families (that may not necessarily reach international bodies) accounts of those on scene shortly after a drone attack, local authorities, any emergency services, army, doctors at treating hospitals, lawyers for victims, politicians, researchers, religious leaders conducting funerals and possibly pathologists. There are clearly a number of sources if a co-ordinated recording system was in place.
Drone strikes are a “man-made disaster”. Such human created catastrophes can be divided into different categories and they include technological hazards, sociological hazards and transportation hazards among others. A nuclear bomb is an example of a man-made disaster. “Whether the disaster is natural or man -made, the manner in which action is taken goes a long way to determine how people fair from the experience” Disasterium. In both instances, “casualties should be treated immediately and the best way to meet this end is placing the necessary measures in place that counteract such incidents in the first place.” Drone strikes must stop!
With regard to technologically assisted killing I highlight a number of questions…
1) Why has the Pakistan government failed to protect its civilian population in drone targeted areas? (I hear a lot of rhetoric but little meaningful action to prevent target killing).
2) What Disaster Preparedness Plan does the Pakistan government have in place regarding drone strikes which occur in remote and difficult terrain (often Taliban controlled) with limited access for those responding to a disaster?
3) What action has the US and Pakistan taken when civilian drone victims have been identified? Both countries are responsible for drone strikes and must be accountable.
As mentioned earlier, I am aware of legal action on behalf of drone victims which is a positive step forward http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-15532916. However as a victim of “US collateral damage” myself (though not drones) and having litigated in both the UK and US, I am only too aware that litigation can take many years and “justice” can be very limited. To give an example, a friend of mine began a legal case in 1989 (it is still ongoing and the case is going through a fifth firm of lawyers). The poor man has still not set foot in court to this day!
It is within the power of Pakistani authorities to act now and put measures in place to ease the suffering of drone victims. There are examples that I know of when an act is so morally reprehensible and damage to civilians so great that a government has taken a decision to act on ethical grounds irrespective of whether a victim is involved in litigation or not, (this happened in Ireland with contaminated blood victims). In this case a government takes action immediately, doesn’t wait years for a judge to come to a decision. A government can decide on ethical grounds that it cannot justify NOT taking action and choose to act in advance of any decision by a court and address LOSS and NEED which is immediate following disaster. Such action is rare but not impossible and involves the setting up of a tribunal where each case can be assessed. I would argue that drones strikes harming civilians is one of those special cases and these are exceptional circumstances.
There is a need in the first instance to provide an official register of those civilians affected. There are so many discrepancies over figures. I believe it is important to record all drone deaths but that is problematic where insurgents are concerned. We rely on militants own statements on websites which we may have difficulty accessing or through reports from Tribal Area journalists.(I was recently made aware that a contact of mine has filmed “19 to 22 burial places of insurgents killed in US drone strikes”). I am aware that insurgents may not declare deaths for a number of reasons or delay for several months while they regroup, and decide who will take over key positions. Governments have not been forthcoming with information due to their secrecy policies over drone programmes.
What role could a tribunal play? As well as collating figures to assess the number of those affected, a tribunal could help identify the impact of drone strikes and the needs of victims. The process should actively involve registrants, looking at physical and psycho-social difficulties, financial problems, housing, care needs, employment, retraining if injured. It can also be focus for communication between affected communities thus providing a larger support network.
I have adapted a model of criteria of Persons Entitled To Claim from an existing Tribunal system of which I am familiar as a simple example.
- a person who has been identified as being the victim of a US drone strike within Pakistan
- the spouse of any person identified as being the victim of a US drone strike within Pakistan
- children identified as being the victim of a US drone strike within Pakistan or directly related/dependent upon a identified victim of a US drone within Pakistan.
- any person who is responsible for the care of a person referred to above and who has incurred or will incur financial loss or expenses as a direct result of providing such care arising from the person being cared for having been identified as the victim directly or indirectly of a US drone strike within Pakistan
- 5. where a person referred to in paragraph 1,2,3 has died as a result of having been injured in a drone strike or where a US drone strike was a significant contributory factor to the cause of death, any dependant of such person
Unfortunately those who provide services for civilians affected by man-made disaster including drone strikes often fail to include the skills of those that have themselves survived man -made disasters and undergone extreme trauma and years of litigation. There is a saying “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It is not my intention to undermine the professionals involved in disaster management, or initiating legal actions but with the best will in the world it’s a very different experience when you are being paid and are not living 24 hours a day for the rest of your life with the consequences of a man -made catastrophe.
Those of us that have suffered multiple losses and unlawful death through government actions, lived through the most terrible circumstances inflicted upon us, not only have empathy but a strong sense of what questions to ask and what practical help is required to support a person and for them to move forward. We are a resource to be utilised but are rarely considered. We have learned to think out of the box, act quickly, cut through a lot of red tape, lobby, litigate, motivate, liaise with press and organise practical and emotional support. We are victims that have empowered ourselves and will continue to fight to find a way to help empower others triumph over similar adversity!
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.