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Amnesty International urges end to US drone secrecy


The United States should end the persistent secrecy over its drone programme in Pakistan and pursue legal action against those responsible for illegal strikes, the Amnesty International rights group said Tuesday.


The United States should end the persistent secrecy surrounding its drone campaign in Pakistan and pursue legal action against those responsible for any illegal strikes, the Amnesty International rights group said in a report published on Tuesday.

Amnesty said that without increased transparency it remained impossible to verify US claims that the drone attacks are based on reliable intelligence and conform to international law.

"Secrecy surrounding the drones programme gives the US administration a licence to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law," said Mustafa Qadri, the group's Pakistan researcher.

The Amnesty statement came on the eve of White House talks between US President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has called for an end to drone strikes.

Addressing a gathering at the US Institute of Peace in Washington on Tuesday, Sharif said the drones strikes represented “a major irritant” in US-Pakistani relations.

Sharif spoke only briefly about drones ahead of his Wednesday meeting with Obama.

Though the Pakistani government often publicly protests against the US strikes, previous administrations are known to have given them their tacit approval.

Amnesty also called on Islamabad to investigate the drone campaign and to look into whether Pakistani officials were involved in providing the US with intelligence information used for strikes.

Some strikes ‘may be lawful’

The US has carried out nearly 400 drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal districts along the border with Afghanistan since 2004, killing between 2,500 and 3,600 people, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

While some of those killed have been high-level Taliban and al Qaeda commanders, critics say hundreds of innocent civilians have also died in the strikes.

Washington says the drone strikes are an important tool in the fight against militants, many of whom have bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

US President Barack Obama defended the drone war in May as legal and the best way to undermine terrorism plots against Americans and US interests.

But they are very unpopular among Pakistanis, with the government publicly condemning them as counterproductive and as a violation of sovereignty.

Amnesty's drone report focused on 45 confirmed strikes in the North Waziristan tribal agency between January 2012 and August 2013.

The group highlighted two incidents that it said raised serious concerns about violations of international law. The first was the death of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi in a double strike as she picked vegetables in the family's fields in October 2012. In the second, 18 labourers were killed in a village on the Afghan border as they ate a meal.

"We cannot find any justification for these killings,” said Amnesty’s Qadri. “There are genuine threats to the USA and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances.”

But he said "it is hard to believe that a group of labourers, or an elderly woman surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States".

Amnesty called on the US to investigate all cases where drone strikes may have caused unlawful deaths and to prosecute those responsible when there is sufficient evidence.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)


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