ISLAMABAD — The head of a UN team investigating casualties from US drone strikes in Pakistan declared after a secret research trip to the country that the attacks violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, said the Pakistani government made clear to him that it does not consent to the strikes — a position that has been disputed by US officials.
President Obama has stepped up covert CIA drone strikes targeting Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghan border since he took office in 2009.
The strikes have caused growing controversy because of the secrecy surrounding them and claims that they have caused significant civilian casualties — allegations denied by the United States.
According to a UN statement, the Pakistani government told Emmerson it has confirmed at least 400 civilian deaths by US drones on its territory. The statement was initially released on Thursday, following the investigator’s three-day visit to Pakistan, which ended Wednesday. The visit was kept secret until Emmerson left.
Imtiaz Gul, an expert on Pakistani militancy who is helping Emmerson’s team, said Friday that the organization he runs, the Centre for Research and Security Studies, gave the UN investigator during his visit case studies on 25 strikes that allegedly killed around 200 civilians.
The UN investigation into civilian casualties from drone strikes and other targeted killings in Pakistan and several other countries was launched in January and is expected to deliver its conclusions in October. The United States rarely discusses the strikes in public because of their covert nature. But a few senior officials, including CIA chief John Brennan, have publicly defended the strikes, saying precision weapons help avoid significant civilian casualties.