On 15 March 2013 Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the United States (US) Court of Appeals Circuit in American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) dismissed the CIA’s standard Glomar response to its expanded and clandestine programme to carry out targeted killings on suspected terrorist. Barely two months later, a High Court in Peshawar, Pakistan, held that drone strikes (and their continued use) “are a blatant violation of Basic Human Rights and are against the [United Nations] (UN) Charter, the UN General Assembly Resolution …and a violation of the sovereignty [of Pakistan]”. Whereas not fully specific on the human rights instruments violated, these judicial pronouncements point to an increasing dissatisfaction by the international community on the lack of a concise and regulated use of the “CIA’s angry birds”.
This note seeks to merely highlight possible violations of various rights including the right to life, right to fair trial as well as the right to privacy, which are all enshrined in the African Charter; and call upon the African Union (AU), through its various organs, to promote more transparency on the use of drones and foster the enactment of a continental regulatory framework to govern the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by western nations on African soil.
The use of drones in African’s airspace has been on a steep rise. The latest documented incident was on 27 May 2013 when Al-Shabaab allegedly shot down a UAS Camcopter S-100 near the town of Buulo Mareer, southern Somalia. The London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that over 200 persons, mostly non-combatants, have been killed by drone strikes in Somalia since 2003. American drone support bases have been reportedly set up in Arba Minch (Ethiopia), Seychelles, Camp Lemonnier (Djibouti) and recently in Somali’s shell-crated international airport in Mogadishu. A 2012 study by Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law indicated that there were more civilians and innocent residents killed in the drone strikes than militants throughout the period of the drone program.
Since 2009, most parts of northern Nigeria, particularly the north-east zone, have been enveloped in a climate of fear and insecurity. This is largely due to the activities of the group Jamā’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lādda’awatih wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), popularly known as “Boko Haram”. What began as a religious movement in 2002 has since grown into a full blown insurgence. The extra-judicial killing of its founder, Yusuf Mohammed, by the police in 2009, perhaps, served as a critical factor. The perennial failure of governance, porous borders with volatile neighbouring countries, high levels of illiteracy, poverty and unemployment, and more recently, the hard-handedness of the government’s military response, have also made mobilisation of support and radicalization a lot easier for the group.
The protracted security crisis has now led to a human rights and humanitarian crisis in those parts. Government interventions, for a long time, proved inadequate and failed to contain the crisis. Instead, several human rights violations were reported from the activities of both the government’s military Joint Task Force and Boko Haram. According to Amnesty International, people living in that part of the country are precariously trapped in a vicious cycle of violence. Lives and limbs have been lost, properties destroyed and people displaced. There is no consensus about the exact casualty figures. Nonetheless, there is no argument that it is well in the thousands now.