7 Apr 2014

‘Innocent’ child’s face targets drone operators

A giant portrait of a child – intended to be seen by drone operators and US satellites monitoring the region – is unveiled on the ground in Pakistan in an attempt to “save innocent lives”.

A group of artists from Pakistan and the US, and French artist “JR”, took the poster to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of north west Pakistan two weeks ago. Locals then helped the group unroll it in a field, writes Harry Horton.

The project has been released with the hashtag #NotABugSplat, a reference to the term “bug splat” – allegedly military slang used by drone operators to refer to a person killed by a drone strike.

The artists hope the poster will create “empathy amongst drone operators” and “dialogue amongst policy makers”.

‘Victim of a drone attack’

Saks Afridi is acting as spokesperson for the group: “We’ve been working on this for a few months. About a month ago we put it together and about two weeks ago we installed it in Pakistan.

“The child in the poster is a victim of a drone attack – she is nameless. We know she lost both parents and two young siblings in a drone attack.

“She’s an image of innocence like most children in that area.”

Shahzad Akbar, from the charity Reprieve, who provided the image of the child, says: “Everybody in the area knows about the family. The strike hit five houses and killed mostly women and children.”

The project is made up of a small number of artists, with a larger team of people supporting them. The poster has been left for as long as locals wish to keep it. The fabric can be used for roofing and other useful purposes.

“We’d like to do dozens more in the area,” says Mr Afridi.

“The locals are in favour of anything that prevents drone attacks. They’re certainly in fear, they know there’s always an imminent threat of a strike.”

US drone activity

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been investigating US drone activity in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It estimates that since 2004, up to 3,700 people have been killed as a result of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, and that up to 957 of them were civilians.

The CIA has reportedly not carried out a strike in Pakistan since the start of the year.

In 2012, an investigation by Channel 4 News found women and children living in a state of panic and fear due to the threat of drone strikes.

Those findings were echoed by academics from Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law who found the aircraft “terrorise” men, women and children “24-hours a day” causing “substantial levels of fear and stress”.

US officials insist that civilian deaths are kept to a minimum, and that drone warfare is their most “precise” weapon in the fight against al-Qaeda terrorists.