Stop the Use of Combat Drones Now

Labour Party

This week I signed a written declaration on the use of drones in combat situations.

It has been estimated by the Pakistan Body Count that the use of combat drones in Pakistan has resulted in the deaths of 2179 civilians by September 2011.  President Obama made the frankly disgraceful decision when he assumed power in 2009 to increase the use of drones, believing them to be favourable to other methods.

The United Nations have made it clear that the use of drones is, at the very least problematic.  On 28 October 2009, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, presented a report to the Third Committee (social, humanitarian and cultural) of the General Assembly arguing that the use of unmanned combat air vehicles for targeted killings should be regarded as a breach of international law unless the United States can demonstrate appropriate precautions and accountability mechanisms are in place.

On 2 June 2010 Alston’s team released a report on its investigation into the drone strikes, criticizing the United States for being, “the most prolific user of targeted killings” in the world. In a statement about America’s use of drones, he said: “…you have the really problematic bottom line, which is that the Central Intelligence Agency is running a programme that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws.”  Alston, however, acknowledged that the drone attacks may be justified under the right to self-defence, but still called on the US to be more open about the programme.

Unfortunately the United States has not been forthcoming about the methods it uses in the selection of targets, nor have they been clear about the number of civilian deaths.  The CIA has gone as far as to say that of the people killed during drone attacks, none have been ‘non-combatants’, a claim that was seen as entirely unrealistic Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal among others.

I commend my colleagues Sabine Lösing, Sonia Alfano, Ana Gomes and Rui Tavares for helping to raise awareness of this important issue.  If your MEP hasn’t signed then you should write to them, urging them to do so.  We must put an end to the use of combat drones.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Conservative and Liberal-Democrat politicians were quick to deflect attention from their controversial pension’s plans last week by goading all those public sector workers. Ministers couldn’t act quickly enough to condemn those who plan to strike for the inevitable disruption it will cause.

It will be an autumn of discontent, and this is largely because the government has announced the cuts to public services pensions before completing its discussions with unions. therefore forcing them into action.

Last week Danny Alexander said the plan was to protect public sector workers for the long term. In a speech in London he said the proposals were “not an assault” on pensions and accused some unions of spreading “scare stories” about government plans.

He said a small group of unions were “hell bent on premature strike action”. I find this line deeply inflammatory and I’m certain that it will only serve to fan the flames of the already angry unions who rightly feel they are still in the middle of negotiations. You can read more on last week’s story here.

I blogged on the interview Harriet Harman gave in last week’s Guardian in which she highlighted how poorly the Tories are on the equality agenda, something which she has fought so hard to achieve but for which she gets little recognition. She said in the interview “You can’t leave equality to the Tories”, it’s a brilliant quote which frankly sums it all up. Harriet, as ever, remains true to her mission to boost women’s rights. You can read the full interview here, and more on my earlier blog here.

Despite her efforts, internationally we have some way to go. Targeted violence against female public officials, dismal healthcare and desperate poverty make Afghanistan the world’s most dangerous country in which to be born a woman, according to a global survey released on Wednesday.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Pakistan, India and Somalia feature in descending order after Afghanistan in the list of the five worst states, the poll among gender experts shows.

The disappointing survey has been compiled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to mark the launch of a website, TrustLaw Woman, aimed at providing free legal advice for women’s groups around the world. You can read the full report and findings here.

Military Solutions will not tackle the Root Causes of Military Based Extremism in Pakistan

Labour Party

Speaking at a hearing last week organised by London Green MEP Jean Lambert, Shama Mall, the Deputy Director of Church World Service – Pakistan/Afghanistan, stated her firm belief that the current focus on military solutions in Pakistan  is incapable of tackling the root causes of religious-based extremism. Endorsing development aid as a means of addressing poverty and social justice, she also spoke about the desperate need for greater equality for women as a means of improving the lives of the people of that country.  In particular, Shama Mall spoke about the need to repeal of all forms of discriminatory laws and  highlighted the need to reform the school curriculum.

Rubina Bhatti, who is the founding member and General Secretary of rights-based development group Taangh Wasaib Organization, spoke further about the discriminatory laws against women and minorities which exist in Pakistan. Laws that have been particularly harmful include the 1951 Citizenship Act which, among other things, denies women the right to get Pakistani citizenship for their foreign husband but entitles a man to obtain citizenship for his alien wife. According to Rubina, many Pakistani women are trapped in a web of dependency and subordination due to their low economic status, and despite the Government of Pakistan taking some steps to ensure address discrimination against women, Pakistan still only ranks 56 among 58 countries trying to eliminate their existing gender pay gap.

Human rights activist, Beenish Hashwani, closed the hearing by offering a set of recommendations to the European Union. She called on the EU to put pressure on the Pakistani Government to expedite its enactment of its Domestic Violence Bill, which will outlaw domestic violence in a country where over 85% of women face this abuse. She also asked for policy-makers to increase aid for poverty reduction, to ensure that development aid for education stresses curriculum reforms as the long-term objective, and to encourage the government of Pakistan to promote policies that promote tolerance.

Despite this rather bleak picture, Pakistan is making some progress in terms of female political participation: in the February 2008 elections 15 women candidates were directly elected to the National Assembly. Last year a joint-summit between Pakistan and the EU took place in Brussels, and on 4th June this year a second summit is due to take place. This will provide a key opportunity for Pakistani women like Shama, Beenish and Rubina to draw EU leaders’ attention to the continuing difficulties faced by women in the country, and to call them to act upon their recommendations.