Four years ago lawyer Shahzad Akbar challenged drone strikes in the Peshawar high court. There wasn’t much concern about them till then though in 2006, a madrassa had been bombed, killing 81 people.
Mr. Akbar, now Legal director, Foundation for Fundamental Rights, was up against heavy odds. Lawyers in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) had earlier told survivors that they could not file a case against the drone strikes since in FATA, the courts did not have jurisdiction according to the Constitution. Mr. Akbar said this was misleading and the courts in FATA could look at cases if they had to do with fundamental rights.
He filed two public interest litigations in the Peshawar high court in 2011 — one on behalf of Noor Khan, whose father was killed, and one by the Foundation.
The Peshawar high court had ruled in May, 2013 that drone strikes are a blatant violation of Basic Human Rights and against the U.N. Charter and other Resolutions and thus, it is held to be a War Crime, cognisable by the International Court of Justice.
Thanks to Mr. Akbar’s case, the political agents in Peshawar were forced to give data, which was physically verified. In North Waziristan agency, 896 civilian deaths took place from 2008 to 2012, and 209 were seriously injured. In South Waziristan, the toll was 553 dead and 126 injured in 70 strikes.
Mr. Akbar also decided to involve the U.S. and the CIA in the matter and served a legal notice on behalf of Karim Khan, whose brother and son were killed in a drone strike, to the CIA station chief in Pakistan asking why criminal charges should not be brought against him. He found out that that under Pakistan law, the CIA station chief could be prosecuted. The immediate effect was that 16 more affected families contacted him and there was a protest outside the National Assembly.
Robert Greenwald’s documentary Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars , co produced by Jemima Khan, puts a human face to the “collateral damage” inflicted by drone strikes. The film interviews a drone operator Brandon Bryant who worked in the air force and who says “we kill people and break things”. While the high court order has directed the government to take up the matter seriously before the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) and file a proper complaint, no progress has been made so far. However, Akbar is planning to file a contempt petition since the government has not followed the court’s orders to prepare a case against drone strikes at UNSC.