Civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan today issued a letter to the country’s new Prime Minister, demanding that he immediately act to carry out a recent judgement to stop drone strikes – or face contempt of court proceedings.
The judgment, which was handed down on 9 May, set out a series of steps the Pakistani Government must take to stop drone strikes. It also declared that the strikes, which are carried out by the CIA in Waziristan, north-west Pakistan, are a war crime.
The case – Foundation for Fundamental Rights vs Federation of Pakistan – was brought on behalf of drone victims from North Waziristan by lawyer and Reprieve fellow, Shahzad Akbar. In the letter to Nawaz Sharif, who was sworn in yesterday as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Mr Akbar, writing on behalf of his clients, reminds Mr Sharif of the court’s order that he implement its decision “within a minimum time possible.” He then gives the Prime Minister 14 days to carry out the court-ordered actions or face contempt of Court proceedings.
The letter includes detailed reminders of the actions Prime Minister Sharif has been ordered to carry out. This includes issuing a formal warning to the United States to stop the strikes; formally raising the issue before both the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly; and officially requesting the United Nations Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon, establish a war crimes tribunal to investigate drone strikes and hold those involved, accountable. The court also ordered the United States to pay compensation to every Pakistani killed in U.S. drone strikes, as the court held all those killed to be civilians under international law.
Mr. Akbar reminds the Prime Minister that it is his constitutional responsibility to implement the landmark decision, that the people of Pakistan are relying upon him to stop the “circling spectre of death,” and warns that failing to do so would provoke an unnecessary confrontation between the Executive and the Judiciary. He adds that the court’s order states that if, after an official request to stop the strikes, the U.S. conducts even one more, the Prime Minister is obliged under the judgment and the Constitution of Pakistan to take whatever means are necessary to protect the citizens of Pakistan.
The Peshawar High Court’s decision on 9 May 2013 was the first of its kind involving U.S. drone strikes. In its decision, the Court found U.S. drone strikes violate Pakistani sovereignty, that no consent to the strikes exists and that the U.S. was guilty of war crimes.
Chief Justice Dost Mohammad, who presided over the case wrote: “It is never permissible for killing to be the sole objective of an operation as is the case in these U.S. drone strikes.”
In examining the evidence, the Chief Justice found that the majority of victims were women and small children and that claims of precision were undermined by the fact that innocent civilian casualties were a “hundred times greater than those . . . alleged to be militants.”
The case was filed last year by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), a legal charity based in Islamabad, on behalf of the families of victims killed in a 17 March 2011 strike on a tribal jirga.
Mohammad Noor, one of the victims represented in the proceedings before the Peshawar High Court, was severely injured in the strike and now has metal rods in both of his legs. He lost both his uncle, Gul Mohammad, and his cousin, Mohammad Ismail, in the attack. Mohammad said: “I ask Prime Minister Sharif to please stop the drones. The drones are killing our community. Before the drones, it was a very friendly environment in our village. We would have fun and go out. But now it is different. Everybody is worried about their future. There’s a sense of constant fear. People are depressed; they are not aspiring for a better future or better things. The drones need to be stopped. As long as they are flying overhead, we cannot have peace and security.”
Barrister Shahzad Akbar said: “The Peshawar High Court judgment strengthens Pakistan’s stance on drones and PM Mian Nawaz Shairf should take advantage of this in making it clear to the US that no further strikes will be tolerated in Pakistan. He should also make it clear that the US has to address the question of justice and compensation for civilian victims. Considering Nawaz Sharif’s respect for the judiciary, we are hopeful he will implement the PHC judgment with all haste and in the letter and spirit with which it was written.”
Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “It is time for Nawaz Sharif to put his words into action. Any politician’s first duty is to prevent his own citizens from being murdered. So Mr Sharif must implement the Peshawar High Court’s decision and put an end to illegal U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. It is the only way to end the daily terror circling over thousands of Pakistanis who are demonstrably not guilty of any offence.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / email@example.com or Mariam Kizilbash – email:firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Foundation for Fundamental Rights is a legal charity, working towards the advancement, protection and enforcement of fundamental human rights given to the citizens of Pakistan and guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan.
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”.