Drones unfortunately have been a popular feature among today’s modern warfare. Drones are unmanned combat planes that are used to target other countries and civilian populations who are perceived to be “the enemy” or affiliated to any terrorist organisations.

Control of the drones is done via satellite in military bases in the country of origin.

They have also justifiably been at the centre of controversy as victims, typically from Pakistan, Afghanistan and other targeted countries gave testimony on behalf of loved ones who are killed by the weapons.

And as more and more of these stories come to light, leaders from the UN have been forced to listen, and have, for the moment at least, called for “greater transparency” over the use of these drones.

It has recently emerged that the European Union, the United Kingdom and Switzerland were joined by the Russian Federation and China in calling for greater clarity from those carrying out the drone strikes.

At the centre of the opposition to these deadly weapons, were representatives from Pakistan who insisted that here was ‘no implicit or explicit consent’ for US drone strikes on its territory, which it says has had a ‘disastrous humanitarian impact.’

In previous debates Western countries had resisted similar calls for greater transparency.

So why the change of heart? Well, two new reports were delivered recently to a busy session of the General Assembly in New York by Ben Emmerson QC and Professor Christof Heyns. The studies, announced a year ago in London, are part of an ongoing UN investigation into the legal and ethical problems posed by the use of armed drones – especially in non-conventional conflicts.

So far the response has been encouraging. Even the US, which has been under the spotlight in recent times over drone use, has indicated that it will continue to co-operate with the UN’s inquiry, as will the UK.

The only country which has point-blanked refused is Israel.


Heyns also said that an increased reliance on drone strikes by nations made diplomacy and international relations more unlikely.

He also called upon the UN to investigate war crimes, in cases where drones have targeted civilian populations.


Recently, a Pakistani family testified to Congress about how their 67 year old relative who worked as a midwife was killed by a drone attack that targeted civilians in the country.

Their testimony marked the first time that Congress had ever bothered to listen to the civilian victims of the US drone attacks.

Rafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani primary school teacher attended the hearings with his two children, Zubair 13 and Nabila 9.

He described his mother, Momina Bibi, as the “string that held our family together”. Through a translator, he stated: “Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day. Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed.”

He added that the only person killed in the drone strike was his mother: “Not a militant but my mother.”

Rehman’s son, Zubair told of how the drone attacks prevented children from playing outside or attending school. He himself was forced to get a piece of shrapnel removed from his leg as a result of the attack, although the operation was delayed due to lack of funds.

He said: “Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don’t fly. When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear. Children don’t play so often now, and have stopped going to school. Education isn’t possible as long as the drones circle overhead.”

Other relatives have refused to visit the family for fear that they may get caught out in the strikes as well. Rehman added that dozens of people from his tribe have also been killed by the strikes.

The hearing was attended by only five members of Congress.

But will greater transparency over drone strikes really help to curtail the problem? Nowadays, when a great number of people in countries across the world are apathetic to the plight of others, perhaps what we need is more than transparency.

Only when the power structure that condones, encourages and supports not only the drone strikes themselves, but the “terrorism” that leads to their use in the first place, is dismantled, are we likely to see any true justice. And true justice can only really come about when drone strikes are no longer used against innocent men and women who are minding their own business in another country.

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