27 October 2011

Waziristan tribal elders protest CIA drone strikes at grand council in Islamabad


Predator drone

Legal action charity Reprieve and Pakistan’s Foundation for Fundamental Rights will tomorrow (Friday) host the Waziristan Grand Jirga (council) in Islamabad, in order to open an international dialogue on the CIA’s use of drones in Pakistan.

Tribal elders and victims' families from North Waziristan will participate, as well as former cricketer Imran Khan of political party Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). Also present will be international human rights lawyers, activists, artists, civil society and political parties.
 
After the Jirga, tribal elders, victims' families, international lawyers and human rights activists - along with thousands of Pakistani citizens and PTI party workers - will join an anti-drone protest rally at the D-Chowk in front of Parliament, which has passed a resolution against drone strikes but failed to address the issue beyond that.  
 
Residents of Waziristan and the FATA regions of Pakistan strongly dispute the CIA’s recent claim that no ‘non-militant’ has been killed in drone strikes in over a year, noting that women and children are among the victims.

Although it is well known that the drones carry cameras, so that a film exists of every attack, the CIA vigorously resists an open, transparent evaluation of the rules that govern missile strikes, as well as of the consequences of each one.
 
The Jirga will insist on a new transparency, so that the world may make an informed judgment on the efficacy of the war waged on sovereign territory by the intelligence service of a foreign nation.  The proposed programme will include the dissemination of 'Transparency Cameras' across the region that will record in real time the actual impact of drone missile strikes, as well as the psychological effects on innocent villagers of drones circling their homes for hours on end prior to any attack. 

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, director of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) said: “We are working to help empower those who have no ability to protect themselves and their families from these missiles. The dramatic recent increase in prescriptions for anti-depressive medicines for residents of Waziristan is just one stark indicator of the daily toll of these deadly American machines that circle menacingly overhead. It is our duty to ensure that the truth is told.”
 
Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith said: “We are interested solely in transparency, with an open and honest dialogue. The CIA cannot conduct what is patently an illegal war in Waziristan while simultaneously covering up any evidence of the deaths of children and other innocent civilians who are being killed on a regular basis.  If they really believe what they are doing is right, then they should not fear the truth. If they do fear the truth, then it is certain that what they are doing is wrong.”
  
ENDS
  
Notes to editors
 
1. For further information, please contact Mirza Shahzad Akbar on Shahzad@rightsadvocacy.org, or 0312-5055971please contact: Katherine O’Shea or Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 20 7427 1099
 
2. The Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) is an NGO based in Islamabad, devoted to providing free legal representation to those victimised by the ‘war of terror’.
 
3. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently estimated there have been between 2,292 – 2,863 total deaths as a result of CIA drone strikes, with up to 775 of them civilians. However, preliminary investigation by Reprieve suggests that the number of innocent victims may be far higher, and that (contrary to American claims) the likelihood of the US hitting its intended “high-value terrorist” is low. Without doubt, the victims include a significant number of women and children.

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, an Islamabad-based lawyer representing drone victim families, has been accumulating evidence on drone strikes and consulting with Reprieve on potential legal action. The evidence exposes an urgent need for a full and independent inquiry into the use of drones, as well as litigation in Pakistani and international courts.

“Bugsplat” is the official term used by the US authorities when human beings are successfully killed with drone missiles – whether they are significant terrorists or (more commonly, it seems) innocent civilians.

The implications of this novel form of videogame warfare are profound: how likely is it that the US soldiers and CIA civilians operating drones from 13000 km away will hit the right person in the middle of the night? How can people surrender to a drone that is plying the sky above their homes? What is the US doing using drones in Pakistan anyway, given that the US is not at war with their ally?

Reprieve is issuing a call to (peaceful) arms to artists and supporters of all stripes to join the discourse on this crucial issue.

4. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’ 

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