GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – A Taliban leader in Pakistan has lashed out against aid workers who are vaccinating children against polio, saying their efforts are “not sincere”, reports the Guardian.
“Leaflets distributed in South Waziristan on behalf of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata) accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being US spies.” Nazir’s attack is the latest in a string of anti-polio vaccination directives from Taliban leaders, linked to US drone strikes.
The strikes have been a focus at Geneva UN Human Rights Council meetings in the past week, with China and Russia issuing statements condemning them. China has increased its criticism of the American strikes in recent days.
South African Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings since 2010, issued a report on the United States in April of this year which gave fuel to critics who have complained that official US government figures on deaths from drone strikes are not credible. At issue is also the legality of the strikes in Pakistan, a country with which the US is not at war, but is rather traditionally considered a friend.
“Since June 2004, some 300 drone strikes have been carried out in Pakistan and the number of resulting deaths has allegedly reached quadruple figures according to unconfirmed reports, of which about 20 per cent are believed to be civilians. According to the non-governmental Pakistan Human Rights Commission, United States drones strikes were responsible for at least 957 deaths in Pakistan in 2010. Information also indicates that the attacks increasingly fuel protests among the population. In the mission report, the Special Rapporteur recommended that the Government publish the number of civilians collaterally killed as a result of drone attacks, and the measures in place to prevent such casualties. The DoD [US Department of Defense] formally confirmed that such estimates of civilian casualties are not compiled separately from estimates related to other weapons systems.”
Heyns stepped up his criticism of the US strikes at an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) meeting in Geneva last week, which was covered by the Guardian. The ACLU 13 June said it had requested information on the legality of drone strikes under the Freedom of Information Act, and when the CIA rejected the request by refusing to deny or confirm that the drone strikes exist, the ACLU took the government office to court. “In particular, the ACLU seeks to find out when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how the United States ensures compliance with international laws relating to extrajudicial killings,” the organization says. It lost in a lower court and has taken the request to a higher court, but the judgement brought the debate into the public arena.
Pakistan’s polio situation has improved in 2012
Pakistan is one of just three countries in the world where polio has not been eradicated since the World Health Organization‘s Global Polio Eradication Initiative began systematic vaccinations against the disease in 1988.
Polio can cause life-threatening paralysis, mainly in children.
“Persistent pockets of polio transmission in northern Nigeria and along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are key epidemiological challenges,” the WHO reported in February 2012. The Geneva-based organization noted that “as long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. In 2009-2010, 23 previously polio-free countries were re-infected due to imports of the virus.”
Nature reports in June, citing Unicef figures, that “after an upsurge in cases in 2011, polio cases are at an all time low in Pakistan this year, with just 22 recorded so far, compared to 52 at this time last year.” The Global Polio Eradication Initiative sent the same message in May, when it showed lower figures than a year earlier, saying “Pakistan appears to be putting the brakes on polio transmission.”
Public in Pakistan: growing resistance to drone strikes
The Taliban fight against vaccination, but linked to drone strikes, comes as the debate over use of drones heats up in the US, but also in Pakistan, where the strikes are finally becoming publicly known, after nearly nine years. Pakistan Today cites a lengthy piece by Jimmy Carter, former US president, that appeared in the New York Times Sunday 24 June: “‘After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington,’ he questioned.”