‘What did we do to be targeted by armed drones?’ This is an often-heard question from civilians living under the rapidly increasing presence of armed drones in countries like Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. PAX, an international NGO, is launching a new report at the United Nations Headquarters in New York that aims to translate the legal debate around the disputed use of armed drones in secret counter-terrorism operations into the everyday life challenges of survivors of drone strikes.
Since 2003, thousands of armed drone strikes targeted suspected terrorists in these countries, but instead killed and wounded thousands of civilians. Recent revelations show that the US is speeding up its secret drone program in Africa, as President Trump reverses previous limitations to drone strikes set up by the Obama administration This signals a worrisome development, which will only lead to more innocent people getting killed.
States are disturbingly silent regarding the legal grounds on which drone strikes are conducted. Debates over the legal concerns on drones strikes often result in an abstract discussion on legitimacy, international law, and human rights, thereby neglecting the voices of those affected. In the report titled ‘Human Rights and Human Realities’ PAX puts the stories of drone victims in the context of international law. Through new interviews conducted by partner organizations in Yemen in 2017 and existing stories from Pakistan, the report provides a bottom-up perspective of what legal concepts such as ‘transparency’, 'the protection of life', and the 'right to remedy' mean for victims of drone strikes. It shows that victims who seek justice and retribution find themselves in a legal labyrinth and rarely making any progress. Their quest for access to information, justice, and accountability cannot be ignored.
Although PAX considers the legal debate crucial in working towards increased protection of civilians in armed conflict, it should not obscure the fundamental goal of these dialogues: Preventing the death and harm to innocent people and communities, while upholding international law principles around the use of lethal force — in and outside the battlefield.
During this year’s UN General Assembly meeting, 54 civil society organizations delivered a statement on armed drones, expressing concerns over drones strikes and calling for meaningful actions to counter these practices. In the last three years, PAX has organized various successful side-events in the UN where the use and proliferation of armed drones was discussed with delegates, civil society and experts. PAX is also coordinating the European Forum on Armed Drones, a civil society network that aims to address concerns over drone killings with European States.
You can read the full text of the interviews of the six described incidents in the Yemen interviews.