Philip Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has voiced concern over the use of unmanned drones by the U.S. to target militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The independent human rights expert said such a practice will be regarded as a breach of international law unless Washington can demonstrate that the appropriate precautions and accountability mechanisms are in place.
Presenting his latest report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural matters, in New York on 27 October, the Special Rapporteur was concerned that the issue had “grown dramatically” in recent months.
The Special Rapporteur noted that the use of such techniques as the so-called “predators” — or pilot-less drones that the U.S. military has used to target Taliban members and other militants active in Pakistan and Afghanistan — may be consistent with applicable international law under certain circumstances. He added, however, “this can only be determined in light of information about the legal basis on which particular individuals have been targeted, the measures taken to ensure conformity with the international humanitarian law principles of discrimination, proportionality, necessity and precaution, and the steps taken retrospectively to assess compliance in practice.”
Responding to questions from journalists later on, the Special Rapporteur said the U.S. position that the General Assembly and Human Rights Council have no role in relation to killings that occur in the context of an armed conflict was a “simply untenable” response.
“That would remove the great majority of issues that come before these bodies right now,” he said. He urged U.S. authorities to be more “upfront” about aspects of its program.
“Otherwise you have the really problematic bottom line, which is that the Central Intelligence Agency is running a program that is killing a significant number of people, and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international law.”
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