The Peshawar High Court (PHC) today (9 May) declared the US guilty of war crimes for its use of drones in North West Pakistan, and ordered the Pakistani government to take a series of steps to stop future strikes.
Chief Justice Dost Mohammad, who presided over the case, found that the CIA strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) constitute a violation of Pakistani sovereignty and a breach of international law.
He wrote: “It is never permissible for killing to be the sole objective of an operation as is the case in these US 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.”
In light of the Pakistani Government’s constitutional obligations to protect the right to life of its citizens, the court ordered the Pakistani Government to take immediate action to stop future attacks.
The court also ordered the Government to take the matter to the UN Security Council, and in the event it did not succeed there, to request an urgent meeting of the General Assembly in order to resolve the matter. Given the strikes constitute a serious breach of the Geneva Conventions, the government is also ordered to formally request that the UN Secretary General establish a War Crimes Tribunal to investigate the matter.
Finally, the court held that the US Government is bound to compensate all the victims’ families and that the Pakistani Government should take steps to ensure that this happened immediately.
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 strike on 17 March 2011 strike on a tribal jirga. The jirga, a traditional community dispute resolution mechanism, had been called to settle a chromite mining dispute in Datta Khel, North Waziristan. This strike killed more than 50 tribal elders, including a number of government officials. There was strong condemnation of this attack by all quarters in Pakistan including the federal government and Pakistan military.
The case was heard by a divisional bench of Peshawar High Court, headed by Chief Justice Dost Muhammad.
Shahzad Akbar, lawyer for victims in the case and a fellow for the legal charity Reprieve in Pakistan said,“This is a landmark judgment. Drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This judgment will also prove to be a test for the new government: if drone strikes continue and the government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court.”
Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “Today’s momentous decision by the Peshawar High Court shines the first rays of accountability onto the CIA’s secret drone war. For the innocent people killed by US drone strikes, it marks the first time they have been officially acknowledged for who they truly are – civilian victims of American war crimes. For those still living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the decision also provides a glimmer of hope that the terror of drones circling overhead might soon end.”