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US drone strikes condemned as illegal by Pakistan's highest court

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MQ-1 Predator drone -- credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder
MQ-1 Predator drone -- credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder

A decision from Pakistan's highest court in Peshawar has ruled that US drone strikes on tribal lands have taken place illegally and in violation of human rights.

The court found that the strikes constitute war crimes, and occur without the consent of the Pakistani government, leaving a secret deal forged by the CIA and Pakistani military as the only possible hint of cooperation between the two nations. The decision cites recent estimates that the strikes have caused "at least 400" civilian casualties since 2004, a number supported by previous reporting from public interest groups such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the New America Foundation. The case was originally filed by a charity representing the families of 17 people killed during a US drone strike, which occurred during a communal meeting in one of Pakistan's tribal areas in March of 2011.

The court ruled that the Pakistani government "must ensure that no drone strike takes place in the future," and has drawn up a resolution against the strikes for the Foreign Ministry to present at the UN. It added that if the US tries to block the resolution, Pakistan "should think about breaking diplomatic ties with the US." Pakistan's newly-elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has also vowed to end the drone attacks, saying they are "against the national sovereignty and a challenge for the country's autonomy and independence.”

"against the national sovereignty"

The decision supports the results of a recent investigation led by Ben Emmerson, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights, who found that US drone strikes were being carried out in violation of Pakistan's national sovereignty. Since 2002, the CIA and JSOC have authorized these strikes with great frequency in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, eliminating alleged "militants" from a secret "kill list" without any oversight or transparency.

On Thursday, lawmakers in the US revealed plans for a bill that would create a Congressional oversight system for capture / kill operations in foreign countries. But until such a bill passes, US drone strikes will continue to occur under a thick veil of secrecy.