April 24, 2012, National — After months of pressure from human rights activists, the U.S. government has granted Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar a visa to attend and speak at an International Drone Summit in Washington DC on April 28, 2012.
The Summit is organized by the peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Akbar, co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Rights, filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims of CIA drone strikes and has been a critical force in litigating and advocating on victims' behalf. He had been invited to speak in the US before and first sought a visa nearly a year ago. His request had been pending since then.
“I am glad that better sense prevailed and the State Department is finally letting me into the country after 14 months of delay and tireless efforts by the Summit organizers,” Akbar said. “I will be speaking to American people about the loss of so many innocent Pakistani lives in their name. I believe the American people are good people and will want to do something to stop this unjust, counterproductive war that violates all norms of international law and human rights.”
The International Drone Summit is bringing together human rights advocates, robotics technology experts, lawyers, journalists and activists in an effort inform the American public about the widespread and rapidly expanding deployment of both lethal and surveillance drones, including drone use in the United States. The Summit is setting the stage for an international campaign to regulate drone use.
“We’re dragging this secretive drone program out of the shadows and into the light of day,” said Medea Benjamin, one of the Summit organizers and author of the new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. “It’s time for the American public to know the true extent, and consequences, of the killing and spying being done in our name.”
Speakers at the Summit include Pakistani Member of Parliament Amna Buttar; Clive Stafford Smith, UK-based attorney who works with drone victims; Hina Shamsi, ACLU national security expert; David Glazier, a professor of law who served 21 years as a US Navy surface warfare officer; award-winning journalist Jeremy Scahill; Chris Woods, a senior reporter with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism who exposed CIA drone attacks on rescuers and funeral-goers in Pakistan; Trevor Timm, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation; and members of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.
The organizers are holding a press conference on Thursday, April 26 at 12:30pm in the Zenger Room at the National Press Club (529 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20045).