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‘Will I be Next?’ Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Publish Report on US Drone Strikes in Pakistan

‘Will I be Next?’ Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Publish Report on US Drone Strikes in Pakistan

[WASHINGTON, DC]  New evidence indicates that the USA has carried out unlawful killings in Pakistan through drone attacks, some of which could even amount to war crimes, Amnesty International said in a major new report released today.

The report, “’Will I be next?’ US drone strikes in Pakistan, is one of the most comprehensive studies to date of the US drone program from a human rights perspective.

It documents recent killings in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas and the almost complete absence of transparency around the US drone program.

“Secrecy surrounding the drones program gives the US administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law. It’s time for the USA to come clean about the drones program and hold those responsible for these violations to account,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher.

“What hope for redress can there be for victims of drone attacks and their families when the USA won’t even acknowledge its responsibility for particular strikes?”

The report was released in a joint news conference with Human Rights Watch, which issued its own report on drone and other air strikes in Yemen.

Amnesty International reviewed all 45 known drone strikes that took place in North Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan between January 2012 and August 2013. The region that has seen more strikes than any other part of the country.

The organization conducted detailed field research into nine of these strikes, with the report documenting killings, which raise serious questions about violations of international law that could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions.

In October 2012, 68-year old grandmother Mamana Bibi was killed in a double strike, apparently by a Hellfire missile, as she picked vegetables in the family’s fields while surrounded by a handful of her grandchildren.

In July 2012, 18 laborers, including a 14-year old boy, were killed in multiple strikes on a impoverished village close to the border with Afghanistan as they were about to enjoy an evening meal at the end of a long day of work.

Contrary to official claims that those killed were “terrorists”, Amnesty International’s research indicates that the victims of these attacks were not involved in fighting and posed no threat to life.

“We cannot find any justification for these killings. There are genuine threats to the USA and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of labourers, or an elderly woman surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States,” said Qadri.

International law prohibits arbitrary killing and limits the lawful use of intentional lethal force to exceptional situations. In armed conflict, only combatants and people directly participating in hostilities may be directly targeted. Outside armed conflict, intentional lethal force is lawful only when strictly unavoidable to protect against an imminent threat to life . In some circumstances arbitrary killing can amount to a war crime or extrajudicial execution, which are crimes under international law.

Amnesty International also documented cases of so-called “rescuer attacks” in which those who ran to the aid of the victims of an initial drone strike were themselves targeted in a rapid follow-on attack. While there may have been a presumption that the rescuers were members of the group being targeted, it is difficult to see how such distinctions could be made in the immediate and chaotic aftermath of a missile strike.

The USA continues to rely on a “global war” doctrine to attempt to justify a borderless war with al-Qa’ida, the Taliban and those perceived to be their allies.

The USA’s promise to increase transparency around drone strikes, underscored by a major policy speech by President Barack Obama in May 2013, has yet to become a reality, and the USA still refuses to divulge even basic factual and legal information.

This secrecy has enabled the USA to act with impunity and block victims from receiving justice or compensation. As far as Amnesty International is aware, no US official has ever been held to account for unlawful killings by drones in Pakistan.

In addition to the threat of US drone strikes, people in North Waziristan are frequently caught  between attacks by armed groups and Pakistan’s armed forces. The local population lives under constant fear of inescapable violence by all sides.

The US drone program has added to local suffering, with people in the region now also living in terror of death from US drones hovering in the skies day and night.

“The tragedy is that drone aircraft deployed by the USA over Pakistan now instill the same kind of fear in the people of the tribal areas that was once associated only with al-Qa’ida and the Taliban,” said Qadri.

As the report documents, local men and women have little control over the presence of groups like the Taliban and al-Qa’ida in their villages and districts.

Al-Qa’ida-linked groups have killed dozens of local villagers they accused of being spies for US drone strikes. Residents of Mir Ali told Amnesty International that bodies are routinely seen dumped by the side of streets with written messages warning that anyone accused of spying for the USA will meet the same fate.

Residents also told Amnesty International they could not report abuses by armed groups to local authorities for fear of retaliation. Many residents were also fearful of talking about drones strikes to Amnesty International. Some of those who did speak openly received threats afterwards.

While the Pakistan government maintains it opposes the US drone program, Amnesty International is concerned that some officials and institutions in Pakistan and in other countries including Australia, Germany and the UK may be assisting the USA to carry out drone strikes that constitute human rights violations.

“Pakistan must provide access to justice and other remedies for victims of drone strikes. The authorities of Pakistan, Australia, Germany and the UK must also investigate all officials and institutions suspected of involvement in US drone strikes or other abuses in the tribal areas that may constitute human rights violations,” said Qadri.

“The Pakistani authorities must disclose information on all US drone strikes they have documented and what measures they have taken or will take to assist victims of these strikes.”

The report also documents the failure of the Pakistan state to protect the human rights of people in North Waziristan. This ranges from deaths, injuries and displacement of residents due to bombardment by the military, to the absence of justice mechanisms and lack of adequate medical assistance.

The Pakistani authorities have a very poor record in bringing al-Qa’ida, Taliban and other perpetrators of human rights abuses from the region to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are jointly calling on the US Congress to fully investigate the cases the two organizations have documented and other potentially unlawful deaths, and to disclose any evidence of human rights violations to the public.

Amnesty International is calling on the US authorities to:

»        Publicly disclose the facts and legal basis for drone strikes carried out in Pakistan and information about any investigation into killings by US drones.

»        Ensure prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that drone strikes resulted in unlawful killings.

»        Bring those responsible for unlawful drone strikes to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

»        Ensure that victims of unlawful drone strikes, including family members of victims of unlawful killings, have effective access to justice, compensation and other remedies.


The Pakistani authorities to:

»        Provide adequate access to justice and reparations for victims of US drone strikes and attacks by Pakistan forces, and seek reparations and other remedies for drone strikes from the US authorities.

»        Bring to justice, in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty, individuals responsible for unlawful killings and other human rights abuses in North Waziristan. This should include US drone strikes, attacks by the Pakistan armed forces, or groups like the Taliban and al-Qa’ida.

»        Publicly disclose information on all US drone strikes that the Pakistani authorities are aware of, including casualties and all assistance provided to victims.


The international community to:

»       Oppose US drone strikes and other killings that violate international law and urge the USA and Pakistan to take the measures outlined above. States should officially protest and pursue remedies under international law when lethal force is unlawfully used by the USA or other states.

»        Refrain from participating in any way in US drone strikes that violate international law, including by sharing intelligence or facilities.
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Note to editors:  An embargoed copy of the report and AV material is available. For more information get in touch with Olof Blomqvist, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Press Officer, olof.blomqvist@amnesty.org, + 44 (0) 20 7413 5871

Troy Davis: A Circle of Prayer

Motivational posters line the hallways en route to the visitation room.  Images of rock climbers, an eagle soaring over clouds, a collection of hands of all pigmentation on a basketball, each with an inspirational one-word message: LEADERSHIP, OPPORTUNITY, ACHIEVEMENT, FOCUS, TEAMWORK.

Opportunity? Achievement? The irony was almost outrageous. The hallway was in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison and I was walking down it with the Davis family en route to visit death row inmate Troy Davis.

Though I had been corresponding with Troy for years via letters and phone, December 2009 was my first visit. I knew I would not have the opportunity to be sitting in the same room as Troy; contact visits had been taken away from death row inmates a few months earlier. Instead, I spoke to Troy through a black iron grate, alongside his mother, sisters and teen-aged nephew. At the end of every visit, the Davis family would form a prayer circle, holding hands, Troy leading a prayer thanking God for their blessings and praying for the strength to continue their quest for justice. Now that contact visits had been revoked, Troy could not hold hands with the rest of his family. Instead, he pressed his hands flat against the black iron grating. His family and I formed a semi-circle. Troy’s mother pressed her hand on the opposite side of the grate as Troy’s right palm, and his nephew did the same on the left. Everyone bowed their heads, closed their eyes and offered prayers. I couldn’t help but take a peek. Troy looked like a silhouette through the dense iron grill, his head bowed, his hands pressed against the grate, with his mother and nephew’s hands pressed just as firmly on the other side, finding a way, despite the steel and bars, to maintain their circle of prayer.

Georgia is preparing to kill Troy Davis at 7 p.m. tonight. He has refused his last meal, opting to fast and pray. If the state carries out his plans, he will be strapped to a gurney. Needles will be thrust into his arms, so that three different lethal injection drugs will flow through his veins. If there is no last-minute intervention, Troy will die.

Tonight’s expected execution of Troy Davis brings inconceivable pain and loss to his family and friends. But it should also bring deep self-probing to us as a country, forcing us to ask ourselves agonizing questions: How can our system of justice be comfortable executing a man despite such substantive doubts as to his guilt? How can our country possibly justify taking an unarmed, captive human being, and killing that human being? Who are we as a people if we, sanctioned by the state, intentionally and with premeditation wrack a family with grief?

I will be outside the prison as the hours and minutes tick towards 7:00pm, joining with hundreds of others, including Troy’s family, in prayerful protest. I will be thinking of the words that Troy asked my colleague, Wende Gozan-Brown of Amnesty International, to share when we visited him this morning:

“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davis’s who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath.”

As 7 pm approaches, I do not intend to picture Troy strapped onto a gurney. Instead, I will focus on the image which has been seared into my brain since December 2009:

Troy standing in silhouette, arms outstretched and palms pressed against the iron grating, his mother’s hand pressed against his on one side, his nephew’s on the other, the rest of the family holding hands in between, as he leads a circle of prayer, thanking God for the blessings they have received, and asking for the strength to continue the struggle for justice.

In Solidarity,
Jen Marlowe

The following letter was written by Jen Marlow, author, activist & friend of Troy Davis.
Video and original music provided by Nelly McKay.

Spirit Songs A Musical Taxonomy of the Amazon

By Gracy Obuchowicz | Guest Contributor

“Spirit Songs A Musical Taxonomy of the Amazon” is a documentary that my friends and I are making about healing songs—called icaros–and the shamans of the Peruvian Amazon who sing them. Until recently, these shamans have served for generations as the doctors, pharmacists, psychologists, and priests for the over three million indigenous people that live alongside the Amazon river in Peru.

First let me explain why these songs are so important. Shamans use the icaros to make contact with plants, animals, and other spirits and engage their help in healing people with problems as small as a cold and as large as the lingering sadness that we call depression in our country. The number of songs a shaman knows is the measure of his healing power. An elder shaman may know upwards of a 500 songs and possess the knowledge of how to use each icaro in combination with plant medicines to treat specific ailments.  Unfortunately, with the lack of apprentices interested in ancient healing traditions, many young and middle-aged shamans know less than 50 icaros and this number is lessening as accomplished healers pass away.
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Now I can properly introduce us–a group of videographers, journalists, musicians and photographers who dedicated to documenting and preserving indigenous culture. When we first heard about the disappearing icaros, the idea for “Spirit Songs” was born.  Our film’s director, Ryan made a short research trip to the Amazon in 2006, and for the past year our team of five filmmakers has been organizing a larger filming expedition to Peru. Our goal was to record shamanic traditions as well as the construction of the Interoceanic highway, a $1.9 billion road project from the Brazilian Atlantic to the Peruvian Pacific, which comes to completion this year. Despite a tough economy, our vision took form and in March and April we traveled to the departments of Loreto and Madre de Dios, Peru visiting communities, recording songs, and filming interviews with every healer and activist we met along the way. To date we’ve shot 70 hours of footage, over 2,500 still photographs, and recorded hundreds of icaros, sung in six indigenous languages.

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Through this footage we can begin to tell the story of the extraordinary people that live by the river. They survive through their relationship with the land, eating from fishing and subsistence farming.  Both the women and men make artesian goods from tree fibers and other foragings and are eager to trade with any outside visitors (during our stay in one town, our sound recordist, Phil, traded an extra pair of underwear for a palm fiber canvas painting—both parties felt like they got a good deal). Although there are many tribes that speak different dialects—we visited five within a few miles of travel—music is a vital part of their culture. Entire communities come together to dance in groups and honor the animal spirits, such as the anaconda and the heron.  During town parties, men, women, and children stay up all night to dance with their hands on each others shoulders, pounding the ground with sticks, and singing in powerful bursts—their voices echoing across the river banks. The jungle is honored, their spirits are raised, and us, as outsiders, are allowed to watch and start to understand the power of these songs.

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I wish I could say that we were the only ones who recognize richness in this region. Yet the reality is that there is a gold rush in the Amazon rainforest that is increasing each day. Peru’s foreign investment-hungry president Alan Garcia, has openly declared Peru to be a “Mining Country.” In response to a recent protest over changing free-trade laws with the U.S., which involved over 30,000 indigenous people, he said: “We have to understand that when there are resources like oil, gas, wood … they don’t belong to the group that had the good fortune to be born there, because that would mean that more than half of Peru’s territory belongs to a few thousand people.” Garcia and his ministries were in negotiations to grant rights to a series of a foreign oil companies, including Colombia’s Ecopetrol, so they can explore two new lots in the Loreto department in Peru, home to the Muruhuana and other groups of voluntarily isolated people (this is close to the area we filmed during our trip).  Most of the Muruhuana have specifically not been contacted due to their lack of immunities, although some bands were contacted last year by illegal logging groups and an estimated 50% were wiped out as a result.  Yet in the face of this He has also publicly said that uncontacted tribes have been “invented” by environmentalists who are opposed to oil exploitation in the Amazon.

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Following what has happened in the Brazilian Amazon, these outside influences in Peru will bring change very quickly. The Amazon Alliance predicts that within 5 years, 50 km of road on either side of the Inter-oceanic highway will be developed for oil production, logging, agriculture (mostly soy) and cattle lands, and within 10 years, 150-300 km will be developed. This is called the “fishbone effect” for the way that little roads will grow from a bigger road, just like a river and its tributaries. Representatives from the Amazon Conservation Team told me that Odebrecht—the Brazilian company that is constructing and will profit from the Interoceanic highway—originally pledged over $18 million for education and economic development programs for the people affected by the road.  Yet over four years later, with the road almost complete, Odebrecht has yet to fully organize these programs.

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I got angry while I was doing this research prior to our trip, and expected “Spirit Songs” to become part of the fight against money-hungry influences. Personally, I was ready to tell that story. Instead we encountered the sacred medicine men and women who are keeping a steady hand in the face of so much change.  Cesar, one of the shaman we interviewed extensively for “Spirit Songs,” believes deeply in the power of the jungle to protect herself. He is a small man in his mid-50’s who has heavily creased skin that is the color of toasted almonds. His icaros are soft and sweet, and invoke God, Jesus, Mother Mary, the Indian sage Sai Baba to help the healing power of the plants. Once, before a ceremony, I asked him if he had heard the legend about the eagle and the condor. He told me he hadn’t. I explained that its prophesized that one day the eagle (symbolizing the developed world) will fly together in the sky with the condor (symbolizing indigenous knowledge) and that this will signify that healing has begun in our world. When I finished he just nodded and smiled, which he often does.  I asked him if he believed that would happen. “Claro,” he said. Of course it would.

Over the past five years, I have traveled to Peru and participated in several shamanic ceremonies to heal my mind and body. Through the help of shamans like Cesar and his icaros, I have been able to heal an eating disorder, greatly ease my struggles with anxiety, and feel an unprecedented connection to nature. I still have my moments of cynicism–especially when Cesar tells me that he had invoked the spirit of the sirena (mermaid) to foster inner beauty in my soul.  Yet returning from this trip, I wake up each morning grateful that the dark moods and irrational fears that I could fall into before prone are suddenly (miraculously?) no longer there. I feel complete in a way that I had been searching for, with a pretty consistant knowledge that love is more important than winning any fight. Simply put, I feel great and I want to talk about it with everyone I meet and recommend it to anyone I see with sad eyes, but its difficult because I still don’t completely understand how it all works. Could a few songs and a few plant medicines and a little old man really do all that?  I don’t know really. All I can say is that the more I learn about the icaros, the more I want to cover myself with them like a blanket for my journey as a human being. So the truth is that this becomes a story about me, as all of our stories essentially are. I want to save the Amazon because it’s saved me.

 

Telling the story of the icaros and the current state of the Amazon has taken on the shape of the river itself—powerful, often nourishing, sometimes terrifying, and far from linear. It’s easy to think about the numbers—like that the Amazon produces 20% of our oxygen and ¼-1/3 of all fresh water in the world–and feel like we have to change something fast. However, making “Spirit Songs” has shown us how much deeper this story goes than just numbers.  We learned this by taking our lead from Cesar. His finger always points past himself to the vast jungle forest around us, to the birthplace to the ancient chorus of animal and plant spirits that are so strong and so quiet that you have to find the ears to listen closely. He believes in the legend that the icaros are calling out to the defenders of the jungle. It seems that these defenders are needed now more than ever, and some days I just laugh and wonder why they wanted a group of sweaty white kids like us to come to their rescue.  But any activist knows that questioning like that takes up valuable time, and the situation in the Amazon is changing quickly.  So instead I choose to use my days to spread awareness of the icaros, and have faith that this will lead to their survival.

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On June 7th of this year—after finishing this article–the tension between Garcia and the indigenous groups turned bloody. This year, as part of their free trade agreement with the United States, the Peruvian government passed legislation that opened up over 70% of land in the Amazon for foreign oil exploration.  When AIDESEP (Peru’s indigenous organized indigenous movement) heard about this, indigenous groups organized wide-scale protests throughout the Amazon. One particular blockade in the city of Bagua turned bloody when Peruvian police fired into the crowd, killing at least 9 protesters (that number is suspected to be much higher—many protestors are still missing and there are many reports of police burning and hiding bodies). 6/8/09 Peru Story begins at 5:20mins into broadcast

In retaliation, the indigenous groups killed 22 police officers, making it the largest act of violence in Peru since the Shining Path terriorism of the 1990’s. The conflict quickly reached the international spotlight and Amnesty International immediately began inquiring about the status of the 79 indigenous protestors that were arrested by the government. The leader of AIDESEP, Alberto Pizango fled Peru saying he feared for his life and was granted asylum in Nicaragua at the end of June.  The indigenous movement was still ready to fight when the government stepped back. The Peruvian congress voted 82 to 12 to repeal the legislation and Garcia has reorganized his entire cabinet as a result.  Although this is a solid victory for the indigenous movement, I still believe that it’s not much more than an effort from Garcia to present the façade of stable government to the rest of the world so that they can garner even more foreign investment.

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