Drone attacks: UN rights experts express concern
Drone attacks: UN rights experts express concern about the potential illegal use of armed drones
NEW YORK (25 October 2013) – Two United Nations human rights experts today expressed concern about the potential illegal use of armed drones. In two separate reports to the UN General Assembly, the experts called upon States to be transparent in their use of drones as weapons, to investigate allegations of violations of the right to life through drone killings, and to respect all applicable international law standards.
The UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, focuses his report on the use of armed drones in counter-terrorism operations and its civilian impact. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns, analyses in his report the use of lethal force through armed drones from the perspective of the right to life and international norms in this regard.
Civilian impact and the right to life
“I urge States to declassify, to the maximum extent possible, information relevant to their lethal extra-territorial counter-terrorism operations and to release its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of drones,” the UN expert on counter-terrorism said.
Mr. Emmerson is currently investigating the use of drones in lethal extra-territorial counter-terrorism operations to evaluate allegations that the increasing use of drones has caused disproportionate civilian casualties
“The right to life is widely regarded as the ‘supreme right’. Armed drones are not illegal, but as lethal weapons they may be easily abused and lead to unlawful loss of life, if used inappropriately,” the UN expert on extrajudicial killings said.
“If the right to life is to be secured in the use of drones, it is imperative that the limitations posed by international law on the use of lethal force, as for any other lethal weapon, are strictly adhered to and not weakened by broad justifications of drone strikes,” Mr. Heyns emphasized.
“Both States using drones and States on whose territory drones are used have their own obligations to respect international standards and prevent violations,” Mr. Heyns pointed out, while emphasising that “the legal framework for maintaining international peace and the protection of the right to life is a coherent and well-established system.
“There is no
need for new law,” the human rights expert says in his
report, cautioning against the wide and permissive
interpretations of the current international rules and
The UN expert on counter-terrorism noted, “there are a number of legal questions on which either no clear international consensus, or where current practices and interpretations appear to need further discussion.”
“There is an urgent and imperative need to seek agreement between States on these issues,” Mr. Emmerson said, as he explained to the UN General Assembly the main areas of controversy and the competing arguments.
Accountability and transparency
In their reports, both experts stress the crucial importance of transparency and accountability obligations of States, and offer concrete recommendations to the international community in this regard.
“The single greatest obstacle to an evaluation of the civilian impact of drone strikes is lack of transparency”, Mr. Emmerson said. “In any case in which civilians have been, or appear to have been killed, the State responsible is under an obligation to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation.”
“States must be transparent about the development, acquisition and use of armed drones. They must publicly disclose the legal basis for the use of drones, operational responsibility, criteria for targeting, impact (including civilian casualties), and information about alleged violations, investigations and prosecutions”, Mr. Heyns urged.