For years the legality of using armed drones has been challenged by individuals and organisations – as a search on this website will reveal.
Another analyst, Sikander Ahmed Shah of Lahore University of Management Sciences, Department of Law and Policy reflected in 2011 on the intense anger in Pakistan provoked by US drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). He pointed out that in the absence of certain extenuating circumstances, the overwhelming majority of international law experts would find the drone strikes in FATA illegal under international law. They do not qualify as acts of self-defence under customary international law or as defined in Article 51 of the UN Charter and so violate Article 2(4), which upholds the territorial integrity of a state.
In his book, International Law and Drone Strikes in Pakistan: The Legal and Socio-political Aspects (Routledge Research in the Law of Armed Conflicts 2014), paperback 2016, Shah explores the legal and political issues surrounding the use of drones in Pakistan and asks whether the drone strikes by the United States comply with international humanitarian law.
Officially, the government of Pakistan has condemned the US drone strikes as illegal under international law and a violation of its territorial sovereignty, but it had permitted the USA to use the Shamsi Air Base which is thought to have been the US base for drone and associated surveillance flights. Shah asks whether such authorization qualified Pakistan as consenting to drone attacks, with the result that the US had not violated Pakistan’s sovereignty and had not acted unlawfully.
In 2015 he stressed that though working towards halting drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas should be the first objective of Pakistan; the government should convince the US to provide ‘reparation’ for the drone strikes in the form of compensation under Article 36 of the Draft Articles on State Responsibility (DASR) for damage to civilian life and property: “(Compensation) will provide the necessary funds for the needs of the affected civilian population, especially women and children. It is high time that the real victims of the war on terror received some form of reparation for the losses they have had to endure”.
Shah surmises that a transparent and accountable system to determine compensation and enable its swift dispensation to victims of drone strikes might act as a deterrent and lessen the frequency of drone strikes because of the additional economic cost of civilian harm.
He summarises: “Drone strikes seriously challenge fundamental human rights including the right to life, protections against extra-judicial killings, the right to a fair trial and access to justice, the right to assembly, the right to freedom of movement and the right to compensation and redress”. We hope to hear more from him.
Sikander Ahmed Shah is an Assistant Professor in the Lahore University of Management Sciences Department of Law and Policy. He teaches Advanced Public International Law and focuses his research on state sovereignty and territoriality, use of force, self-determination, global terrorism, human rights and humanitarian law, WTO laws and corporate governance.