Tag Archives: law of war

How the World Looks Like in 10000 Air Strikes

Amnesty International researchers visited 42 Coalition air strike sites across the ruined city of Raqqa, Syria and interviewed 112 civilian residents who had survived the carnage and lost loved ones.   The accounts detailed in the report, ‘War of annihilation’: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria, leave gaping holes in the Coalition’s insistence that their forces did enough to minimize civilian harm….

“IS’s brutal four-year rule in Raqqa was rife with war crimes. But the violations of IS, including the use of civilians as human shields, do not relieve the Coalition of their obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians. What levelled the city and killed and injured so many civilians was the US-led Coalition’s repeated use of explosive weapons in populated areas where they knew civilians were trapped. Even precision weapons are only as precise as their choice of targets.”

Shortly before the military campaign, US Defence Secretary James Mattis promised a “war of annihilation” against IS.   From 6 June to 17 October 2017, the US-led Coalition operation to oust IS from its so-called “capital” Raqqa killed and injured thousands of civilians and destroyed much of the city….Residents were trapped as fighting raged in Raqqa’s streets between IS militants and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, supported by the Coalition’s relentless air and artillery strikes. IS mined the escape routes and shot at civilians trying to flee. Hundreds of civilians were killed: some in their homes; some in the very places where they had sought refuge; and others as they tried to flee.

US, British and French Coalition forces carried out tens of thousands of air strikes and US forces admitted to firing 30,000 artillery rounds during the offensive on Raqqa. US forces were responsible for more than 90% of the air strikes…

Amnesty International is urging Coalition members to investigate impartially and thoroughly allegations of violations and civilian casualties, and to publicly acknowledge the scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives and destruction of civilian property in Raqqa…They must disclose the findings of their investigations, as well as key information about the strikes necessary for assessing their compliance with international humanitarian law. They must review the procedures by which they decide the credibility of civilian casualty allegations and they must ensure justice and reparation for victims of violations. They also have a responsibility to assist with gruelling demining and reconstruction work under way in Raqqa in a more meaningful way than at present.

Excerpts Syria: Raqqa in ruins and civilians devastated after US-led ‘war of annihilation’, Amnesty International, June 5, 2018

The UN Peacekeeping in Haiti: blind leading the blind

Today’s foreign do-gooders in Haiti are the 9,000 members of Minustah, the UN’s peacekeeping force. They are surely better-meaning than the interlopers of the past. But the Haitian government has little more influence over them than it did over America’s marines. And in recent years the force has inflicted great damage. Its troops have been blamed for starting a cholera epidemic that has claimed 7,000 lives, and have been accused in numerous cases of rape and sexual assault. Its missteps are leading to ever more strident calls for greater accountability for peacekeepers.

The latest public-relations volley was launched on April 21st at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. “Baseball in the Time of Cholera”, directed by two foreign-aid workers living in Haiti, weaves together the stories of a teenage athlete who loses his mother to cholera and lawyers suing the UN for negligent sanitation at a Nepali peacekeeping base. The film features plenty of news footage of the base, including sewage pipes flowing into a tributary of Haiti’s largest river. The first cholera cases appeared near the base, and the bacteria—a South Asian strain—quickly spread along the river and its network of canals, which Haitians use for bathing, drinking, irrigating crops and washing clothes.

Since the outbreak began the UN has tried to dodge accusations of responsibility, saying that the source of the disease is unknowable or unimportant. But a series of epidemiological and genome studies have all but established Minustah’s role as fact.   Citing scientific evidence, in November the lawyers featured in the film filed 5,000 complaints to Minustah’s claims office on behalf of cholera victims, seeking at least $250m in damages. The UN’s peacekeeping department says it is studying them. Until now, the claims office has dealt with smaller matters, such as property damage.

Minustah’s reputation has been further tarnished by charges of sexual abuse. Two Pakistani soldiers were accused of raping a 14-year-old boy, and a group of Uruguayan peacekeepers allegedly sexually assaulted an 18-year-old boy and videoed the incident. The justice system has worked somewhat better in these cases—a Pakistani military tribunal convened in Haiti convicted its soldiers last month, and the Uruguayans seem likely to face trial in their home country. But the Pakistanis were sentenced to just one year in prison. A popular song at this year’s Haitian Carnival included a line cautioning young men nearby the peacekeepers to watch their rears.

Excerpts from,UN in Haiti: First, do no harm, Economist, April 28, 2012, at 41

The CIA Drone Program as a Violation of Human Rights

The Central Intelligence Agency’s drone program has come under attack by human-rights groups who say they are preparing a broad-based campaign that will include legal challenges in courts in Pakistan, Europe and the U.S.  WSJ’s Evan Perez has exclusive details of a British-based group taking legal action over an October drone mission that killed two youths in Pakistan.  The nascent effort is being modeled after the challenges brought by some of the same groups against the administration of President George W. Bush over detentions at the Guantanamo Bay military prison and in secret CIA “black sites,” say lawyers involved in the planning.

The British-based charity Reprieve and its Pakistani partners, in an initial step, sent a letter Dec. 2 to the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, asking about his role in authorizing a drone strike on Oct. 31 that the lawyers said killed two youths, age 12 and 16. The letter offers Mr. Munter a chance to “disavow what happened” before the group files suit.  U.S. officials deny any youths were killed, and identified the dead as al Qaeda facilitators. U.S. officials say that the drones are a centerpiece of the campaign against al Qaeda and that the CIA takes extraordinarily steps to target only wanted militants and minimize civilian casualties.

Reprieve says the aim of the campaign is to hold senior U.S. officials responsible for possible human-rights violations in the drone attacks.The Obama “administration needs to think about the potential international legal liability of their officials,” said John Bellinger, a former legal adviser for the State Department during the Bush administration who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations. “They’re convinced they’re on the side of the angels and can’t believe someone might accuse them of war crimes.”

There is some precedent in recent years for using lawsuits and public campaigns to embarrass the U.S. and compel disclosures.  Legal actions filed in the U.S. and Europe helped expose details of clandestine CIA programs, prompting some governments to scale back their cooperation. These include the agency’s practice of extraordinary rendition, in which the U.S. moved prisoners to third countries for detention and questioning.

Mr. Munter and his spokesman didn’t respond to requests to comment. Lawyers said the planned lawsuit will accuse the ambassador of being a co-conspirator in the two deaths.  Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said the group was also preparing to press European governments to detail their role in providing intelligence that allegedly has been used in the U.S. strikes. He said the group also intends to target European companies which help to build components used in the drone program.

While earlier legal campaigns produced few victories for human-rights groups, the attention they generated in some cases moved public opinion, resulting in policy changes.  A U.S. lawsuit against Boeing Co.’s Jeppessen unit, for its role as a CIA contractor in rendition flights, was turned back in 2009 by U.S. courts. But during its years under litigation, it brought attention and helped expose details about the CIA program.

In the U.S., the American Civil Liberties Union last year used a lawsuit on behalf of the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric who the U.S. said was a leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to force the U.S. for the first time to explain why Mr. Awlaki was being targeted for killing.  The ACLU failed in the father’s aim to stop Mr. Awlaki from being killed. “That said, the case has served a purpose—it has provoked a public debate,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU lawyer who argued the case. He said the case “ultimately compelled the Obama administration to at least explain the understanding of the law. And ultimately the case was important in forcing a conversation about transparency.”  The ACLU is in discussions with family members about follow-up legal action. That includes a suit over another drone strike in Yemen that inadvertently killed the young son of Anwar al-Awlaki.

Mr. Smith acknowledged the uncertainty of bringing a lawsuit in Pakistan targeting Mr. Munter because of the immunities typically afforded to diplomats.  The letter sent by Reprieve’s Pakistani partners, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, to Mr. Munter says Tariq Aziz, 16, and Waheed Khan, 12, were killed in a drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area just days after participating in meetings in Islamabad organized by Reprieve, which gave cameras to Tariq and others to document drone strikes.  The Foundation’s letter to Mr. Munter says he may share in the liability for the deaths because, as ambassador, he is consulted before each strike, and can raise objections. The letter cites reports by The Wall Street Journal describing Mr. Munter’s role in the process.  U.S. officials deny that any innocent civilians, or children in particular, were killed in the Oct. 31 strike. The officials said the CIA is able to differentiate between adults and children and said they believe the individuals killed were adults who were involved in al-Qaeda’s activities.

ADAM ENTOUS,EVAN PEREZ and SIOBHAN GORMAN, Drone Program Attacked by Human-Rights Groups, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2011

A Published Covert War: Yemen

The Obama administration has intensified air strikes on suspected militants in Yemen in a bid to keep them from consolidating power as the government in Sanaa teeters, The New York Times reported on Wednesday [June 8, 2011]  A U.S. official confirmed to Reuters that a U.S. strike last Friday killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a midlevel al Qaeda operative, which followed last month’s attempted strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Citing U.S. officials, the Times said a U.S. campaign using armed drones and fighter jets had accelerated in recent weeks as U.S. officials see the strikes as one of the few options to contain al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.   With the country in violent conflict, Yemeni troops that had been battling militants linked to al Qaeda in the south have been pulled back to Sanaa, the newspaper said.

Yemen’s authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was wounded on Friday and is being treated in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. He appears to have been wounded by a bombing at a mosque inside his palace, not a rocket attack as first thought, U.S. and Arab officials told Reuters.  There were conflicting reports about his condition — ranging from fairly minor, to life-threatening 40 percent burns.

There had been nearly a yearlong pause in U.S. airstrikes after concerns that poor intelligence had resulted in civilian deaths that undercut goals of the secret campaign.

U.S. and Saudi spy services have been receiving more information from electronic eavesdropping and informants about possible locations of militants, the newspaper said, citing officials in Washington. But there were concerns that with the wider conflict in Yemen, factions might feed information to trigger air strikes against rival groups.  The operations were further complicated by al Qaeda operatives’ mingling with other rebel and anti-government militants, the newspaper said, citing a senior Pentagon official…Opposition leaders have told the [US] ambassador that operations against al Qaeda in Yemen should continue regardless of who wins the power struggle in the capital, the Times said, citing officials in Washington.

Excerpt, U.S. intensifying covert war in Yemen: report, Reuters, June 8, 2011