Pakistani drones victims lawyer Shahzad Akbar to speak in Washington DC after US relents and grants visa

April 24, 2012

After months of pressure from lawyers and activists, the US government has this week granted Pakistani human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar a visa to attend and speak at an International Drone Summit in Washington DC on April 28, 2012.

Organized by non-government organisations CODEPINK, Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Drone Summit aims to bring transparency and the rule of law to the CIA’s covert targeted killing programme in Pakistan and beyond.

It will hear testimony from investigators, lawyers and robotics experts about the rapidly expanding use of both lethal and surveillance drones worldwide, including within the United States.

Mr Akbar, co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Rights, filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims of CIA drone strikes and has been a critical force in litigating and advocating on victims’ behalf. After first unsuccessfully seeking a visa to speak in the US over a year ago, his latest request was granted only this week.

Shahzad Akbar said: “I am glad that better sense prevailed and the State Department is finally letting me into the country after 14 months of delay and tireless efforts by the Summit organizers. I will be speaking to American people about the loss of so many innocent Pakistani lives in their name. I believe that Americans are good people and will want to do something to stop this unjust, counterproductive war that violates all norms of international law and human rights.”

Medea Benjamin, a Summit organiser and author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, said: “We’re dragging this secretive drone program out of the shadows and into the light of day. It’s time for the American public to know the true extent, and consequences, of the killing and spying being done in our name.”

Tara Murray, attorney at Reprieve, said: “After nearly a year of waiting, it’s about time that Shahzad Akbar is permitted to travel to the US and share with the American people the atrocities that are taking place as a result of the CIA’s covert drone war in Pakistan. We hope this gesture signals a willingness on the part of the US Government to engage with the human rights community and to be more transparent and accountable. But only time will tell.”

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk +44(0)20 7427 1099 or Summit Organiser Ramah Kudaimi at rkudaimi@gmail.com or 708-822-5880.

2. The International Drone Summit is bringing together human rights advocates, robotics technology experts, lawyers, journalists and activists in an effort to inform the American public about the widespread and rapidly expanding deployment of both lethal and surveillance drones, including within the United States. Speakers at the Summit include Pakistani Member of Parliament Amna Buttar; Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve, who works with drone victims; Hina Shamsi, ACLU national security expert; David Glazier, a professor of law who served 21 years as a US Navy surface warfare officer; award-winning journalist Jeremy Scahill; Chris Woods, a senior reporter with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism who exposed CIA drone attacks on rescuers and funeral-goers in Pakistan; Trevor Timm, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation; and members of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. The organizers are holding a press conference on Thursday, April 26 at 12:30pm in the Zenger Room at the National Press Club (529 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20045).

3. 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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