Noor Khan is taking legal action against the UK government regarding its sharing of intelligence with the US for use in drone strikes in Pakistan. Noor Khan’s father was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan on 17 March 2011.
The attack targeted a meeting of local tribal elders meeting to discuss a dispute over a local chromite mine. Approximately 50 people were killed in the attack. Noor's father was one of a number of ‘maliks’ or tribal elders, highly respected in the local community, whose role it was to mediate and resolve local disputes peacefully.
Noor was at his family home in Miranshah when he was told about the drone attack by his uncle. He was told at once that none of the elders had survived. Noor immediately drove to the site of the attack: "I can only describe the scene of the strike as carnage. Fires were scattered about everywhere and the air was saturated with the scent of burnt human flesh." His father's body was very badly disfigured.
Noor’s family have lost their patriarch and their only source of income. The wider impact of the March 17 attack has also been devastating on the local community, as villages across Waziristan lost community leaders in the strike. Drone attacks have caused high numbers of civilian casualties in Waziristan, with villagers living in constant fear of the drones circling above their villages. Children in the area are afraid to attend school because of drones, and Noor fears for the future of the community with children and young people failing to obtain an education.
Although the legality of drone strikes has been heavily criticised by prominent figures such as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, it has been reported in the media that intelligence from GCHQ, the UK’s eavesdropping agency, has been shared by the UK for use in US drone attacks.
Noor Khan’s legal challenge states that this practice may be unlawful. Only persons entitled to immunity from ordinary criminal law in respect of armed attacks are “lawful combatants,” participating in an “international armed conflict” in accordance with international law. As CIA and GCHQ employees are civilians and not “combatants” they are not entitled to immunity from ordinary criminal law. Even if they were, the UK is not at war with Pakistan.
GCHQ staff who assist CIA employees to direct drone attacks in Pakistan are in principle liable under UK law for murder, and any policy which involves passing intelligence to the CIA for use in drone strikes in Pakistan is unlawful.
Evidence suggests that drone strikes in Pakistan are being carried out in violation of international humanitarian law, because the individuals who are being targeted are not directly participating in hostilities, and/or because the high civilian death toll from drone attacks means the force used is neither necessary nor proportionate.
This suggests that there is also a significant risk that GCHQ officers may be guilty of conduct ancillary to crimes against humanity and/or war crimes, both of which are statutory offences under the International Criminal Court Act 2001.
On May 9th 2012, Noor Khan filed a petition over the death of his father by a CIA drone attack, launching legal action against the Pakistani Government for its responsibility in relation to the strike.
See the Reprieve Press Releases from March 12th 2012: 'UK to face legal challenge over drones policy', and from May 9th 2012: 'Drones victims sue Pakistan for complicity in CIA killing of 50 villagers' for more information on Noor Khan's case.