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Drone attacks in violation of international law

February 8th, 2013 • Reports appear regularly of ‘successful’ American drone attacks. Look more deeply into the question of the drones, and you’ll see that they are anything but a success.


Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament for the SP


The United States has in recent years increasingly concentrated its attention on drone attacks. These attacks have taken place in war zones such as Afghanistan. With growing frequency, however, drones are being deployed in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen, where no war is being waged. The increasing use of these uncrewed aircraft is disturbing. The United Nations is extremely concerned about the matter and has launched an investigation. These concerns are understandable, as drone attacks are in many cases illegal, are responsible for large numbers of civilian deaths, and are counterproductive in relation to the fight against terrorism.

The deployment of drones has expanded greatly in the last few years. The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism notes that the Americans have even conducted attacks on emergency aid workers, people who at the time were treating the wounded from a previous raid. Mourners have also been bombed during funerals, while groups of people have been targeted without anyone knowing who they were, killed purely on the basis of suspect behaviour.

Human rights organisations and legal experts agree that such attacks, taking place as they do without any form of trial or due process, are illegal. The Netherlands is opposed to extrajudicial executions, but has said nothing about the deployment of drones.

Despite US assertions to the contrary, the attacks are responsible for many civilian deaths. In Pakistan alone there have been, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, around 350 attacks in which three thousand people have died, including hundreds of civilians and as many as 176 children.

The life of many Pakistanis has been transformed into a veritable hell. The uncrewed aircraft hang twenty-four hours a day in the air, sowing death and destruction by the week and forcing people to live continually with enormous anxiety. Terrorism is being fought with terrorism and what is actually a form of collective punishment, in contravention of the Geneva Convention.

The situation in Yemen makes it clear that the American policy is counterproductive. When the drone war began there in 2009, there were a few hundred members of Al Qaeda in the country. Now, according to Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen, dozens of attacks and hundreds of deaths later this figure has at least tripled.

In the Dutch Constitution it is established that the government is responsible for promoting the development of international law. The drone attacks are entirely at odds with this system of law. After years of saying nothing, it is high time that the Netherlands started to take this Article of the Constitution seriously, adopting a clear position at the international level against these illegal attacks. The fact that the UN is now investigating the drone attacks is an additional reason to break the existing silence.


This article appeared on 2nd February 2013 in De Gelderlander as well as other regional newspapers.


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