Since 2004, drone strikes in Pakistan have killed an estimated 3500+ people, a disturbing percentage of whom have been innocent civilians. Including more than 200 children. Reprieve/FFR has been working to raise awareness of this crisis, but protests in Pakistan go unnoticed globally.
Our objective was to raise global awareness of this human rights violation which was otherwise mostly ignored, so that it may get noticed not only by the public and the press, but also by governments and the drone operators themselves - to ultimately minimize civilian deaths.
Drone operators routinely describe their casualties as 'Bug Splats' since viewing a human from far above gives the sense of an insect being crushed. Our strategy was to address pilots directly. A large-scale portrait of an affected child was laid on the ground facing up in the heavily bombed area of NorthWestern Pakistan, so a drone camera could capture and transmit it to an operator's screen, thereby engaging them in a direct visual dialogue. For the first time ever, the very monitor of a drone operator became the medium to deliver a protest message.
To raise awareness, the campaign - part of French artist JR's Inside Out movement - was put online with the hashtag #NotABugSplat and a website with information about drone strikes.
We went viral overnight, globally. Massive coverage in the world press spread awareness rapidly. More than 3.5 billion estimated impressions in the news and 62+ million impressions on Twitter helped us gain $182+ million in earned media.
The news was tweeted by members of the National Assembly of Pakistan, who raised the concern of drone strikes with the International Court of Justice. Two months later, the Islamabad High Court registered a criminal case against drone operators - a first for Pakistan. Rights activists in USA have replicated the idea there, making the photograph a poster image for anti-drone protests.
Strikingly, the latest US Government Accountability report indicates that the negative publicity is affecting pilot morale - an ex-drone sensor operator confirmed this in an interview, even naming our project. The UK Guardian described our work best: "It has the power to startle...and perhaps even render him incapable of using his weapon."
Strikes have lessened, and the total number of civilians and children killed by drones since this work was put up - according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism - has been brought down to almost zero.