UN rights expert questions US drone strike policy News
UN rights expert questions US drone strike policy
Photo source or description

[JURIST] The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions [official profile] published a report [text, PDF], released Tuesday, asking the US to clarify its policy of targeted killing of terrorism suspects through raids and unmanned drone strikes. Christof Heyns noted that the US government has failed in the past to provide a comprehensive explanation of its drone-attack policy, including a justification under international law, which generally requires that governments make an effort to arrest a suspect first. The report questioned US consideration of the risk to civilians, noting that an estimated 20 percent of deaths from targeted killings in Pakistan were civilians. Heyns requested that the US clarify its policies:

The Special Rapporteur again requests the Government to clarify the rules that it considers to cover targeted killings. … The Special Rapporteur reiterates his predecessor’s recommendation that the Government specify the bases for decisions to kill rather than capture “human targets” and whether the State in which the killing takes place has given consent. It should also specify procedural safeguards in place to ensure in advance that targeted killings comply with international law, as well as the measures taken after such killing to ensure that its legal and factual analysis is accurate.

The report also addressed other issues, including concerns about due process considerations in the imposition of the death penalty and the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. The rapporteur commended the US on its progress in closing racial disparities and decreasing death sentences. His report was delivered to the UN Human Rights Council [official website], and will be discussed during its 20th session [materials] in Geneva on Tuesday.

The legality of drone strikes has been a controversial issue in recent months. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay declared on Friday that US drone strikes in Pakistan raise grave legal concerns [JURIST report] under international law. Pillay expressed particular concern that the drone strikes do not comport with the international law principles of proportionality and distinction. In October, JURIST contributing editor Jeffrey Addicott asserted [JURIST op-ed] that the CIA drone strike in September [JURIST report] that killed senior al Qaeda leader and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] was legal under the law of war. Prior to the drone strike that killed al-Awlaki, the Obama administration issued a memorandum [JURIST report] justifying the legality of such an action. In August, JURIST guest columnist Laurie Blank argued [JURIST op-ed] that the US government’s claim that drone strikes in Pakistan have caused zero civilian casualties belied serious concerns about American interpretation and adherence to the laws of war.