Family of drone strike victim call on US to end use of remote-controlled bombs

By Rachel Brown for ABC News (Australia Press).

PETER LLOYD: The family of a Pakistani woman killed in an American military drone strike have added their voice to a worldwide campaign to force the Obama administration to cease carrying out remote-controlled bomb attacks.

Hundreds of Pakistanis have been killed and maimed in drone strikes intended to kill militants in the country's remote tribal areas.

Human rights groups want Australia to reveal whether it's been involved in drone attacks, as Rachael Brown reports.

RACHAEL BROWN: Primary school teacher, Rafiq ur Rehman, was at the market collecting supplies for the Islamic holiday Eid when his mother was killed in a CIA drone attack in North Waziristan.

RAFIQ UR REHMAN (voiceover): All of my neighbours and family members told me that you don't want to see the condition that she was left in but I insisted as I was inconsolable. As I reached the house they all told me that whatever remains they could find they put it in a box but she was blown to pieces.

RACHAEL BROWN: In Urdu there's a saying that means 'the string that holds the pearls together'. He says that's what his midwife mother was to his village.

Mr Rehman wants to know why she and his two young children were targeted.

RAFIQ UR REHMAN (voiceover): I had read in different newspapers some were saying, reporting that 'oh they had struck a car' or they had 'killed four people who were driving by the house in a car', there's no street even near my house.

RACHAEL BROWN: His 13-year-old son Zubair ur Rehman thought nothing of the drone hovering overhead.

Next the boy knew he was in hospital with shrapnel in his leg. Now he's terrified of the ever-present hovering shadow.

ZUBAIR UR REHMAN (voiceover): Before the strike I would hear the drones 24 hours a day, it was a normal part of my life and I never feared them because I'd never seen them do anything wrong. But after the strike, I'm scared, I don't feel like going outside and playing football, volleyball and cricket, I can't even go outside and walk because I constantly fear the sound of the drone.

RACHAEL BROWN: It's the family's first interview with an Australian media outlet. It's been presenting its harrowing testimony to US Congress, the first civilian victims of an alleged CIA drone attack to do so.

Mr Rehman told Congress, 'we do not kill our cattle the way the US is killing humans in Waziristan with drones'.

His son, Zubair ur Rehman, has urged Australia and other countries to act.

ZUBAIR UR REHMAN (voiceover): What I would like to say to the American people and who every may be supporting the drone program is that this is an unjust program and if you're trying to go after bad people that you should go… that we were not bad people, so I don't understand why this happened to us and I urge them to put pressure on their government to end this drone program.

RACHAEL BROWN: Human rights groups say Australia is a country with questions to answer.

The defence facility Pine Gap near Alice Springs provides, among other things, signals intelligence to the US. In fact one Australian defence source previously told Fairfax Media, 'the US will never fight another war in the Eastern Hemisphere without the direct involvement of Pine Gap'.

But the Defence Department won't reveal if its intelligence extends to the American drone program.

As casualties rise, international law experts say the Australian Government may no longer be able to cite 'national security', as a trump card to withhold information. 

BEN SAUL: It's of course possible for Australia to reveal enough information to the Australian public to satisfy all of us that Australia is complying with its international law obligations.

RACHAEL BROWN: Professor Ben Saul is from the University of Sydney

BEN SAUL: Now I think it would be extremely unlikely that Australian intelligence or defence officials would be deliberately providing erroneous intelligence information in order to kill civilians. But of course if sufficient care is not exercised that in determining who are legitimate targets in these targeting processes then that too can amount to a war crime.

RACHAEL BROWN: The Rehman family's appearance at Congress might put pressure on the Pakistani government to revise its figures. It claims only 67 civilians have been killed by drone strikes and none at all in 2012 and 2013.

Professor Saul says the biggest obstacle to assessing civilian causalities is the lack of transparency.

BEN SAUL: Just because you get testimony from a civilian who was injured doesn't necessarily mean that that strike - the drone strike – was necessarily or automatically illegal. But I think the US and its allies have to do much more to demonstrate to people that where civilians are injured or killed that that happens in a way which is legal under international law.

RACHAEL BROWN: The Australian Defence Department has again declined to say whether it'll be reporting to the UN's Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism.

In the meantime, 9-year-old Nabila ur Rehman says the streets of her village remain very quiet.

NABILA UR REHMAN (voiceover): No-one wants to play outside because they said the drone fall on you and you're not even a bad person.

PETER LLOYD: That’s nine-year-old Nabila ur Rehman ending that report by Rachael Brown.

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