UN Human Rights Commissioner Questions Legality of US Drones

Published on
by
Common Dreams

UN Human Rights Commissioner Questions Legality of US Drones

Navi Pillay: “I see the indiscriminate killings and injuries of civilians in any circumstances as human rights violations.”

by
Common Dreams staff

Navi Pillay in Geneva 1 March 2012. Pillay questioned U.S. drones' legality at a news conference in Islamabad today. (photo: Violaine Martin / UN Photo Geneva)

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has questioned the legality of U.S. drone strikes at a news conference in Islamabad today, Agence France-Presse reports.

Pillay stated, “Drone attacks do raise serious questions about compliance with international law.”

Pillay also highlighted the drones' killing of civilians. “I see the indiscriminate killings and injuries of civilians in any circumstances as human rights violations.”

Jameel Jaffer and Nathan Wessler also question the legality of the drones and the CIA's sweeping classification of "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants" in an op-ed in the Guardian on Wednesday writing, "direct targeting of noncombatants is a war crime; indeed, it is the prototypical one."

* * *

Navi Pillay:  “Drone attacks do raise serious questions about compliance with international law.”Agence France-Presse: UN backs probe into US drone civilian casualties

“Drone attacks do raise serious questions about compliance with international law,” Pillay told a news conference in Islamabad.

“The principle of distinction and proportionality and ensuring accountability for any failure to comply with international law is also difficult when drone attacks are conducted outside the military chain of command and beyond effective and transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control,” she said. [...]

“I see the indiscriminate killings and injuries of civilians in any circumstances as human rights violations.” [...]

“Because these attacks are indiscriminate it is very, very difficult to track the numbers of people who have been killed,” she said.

“I suggested to the government that they invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions and he will be able to investigate some of the incidents.”

* * *

Jameel Jaffer and Nathan Wessler writing in the Guardian
First the 'targeted killing' campaign, then the targeted propaganda campaign

[The New York Times story last week on President Obama's "kill list"] has already received a great deal of coverage, but two aspects of it deserve more attention.

The first has to do with the targeted killing campaign itself. Long before the New York Times story was published, human rights organizations questioned the campaign's lawfulness. At the ACLU, we sued (pdf) over elements of the campaign two years ago, contending that the US government's then-proposed (and now-realized) killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen would violate both international law and the US constitution.

"The New York Times story suggests the legal foundation of the targeted killing campaign is not simply shaky, but rotten."But the New York Times story suggests the legal foundation of the targeted killing campaign is not simply shaky, but rotten. One problem is that the US government appears to take a very broad view of who can be targeted. At one point, officials at the State Department complained to the White House that the CIA seemed to believe that any group of "three guys doing jumping jacks" was a terrorist training camp.

Another problem, and perhaps an even deeper one, is in the government's approach towards individuals who are not targeted – not in the conventional sense of the word, anyway. According to the New York Times, the government "counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent".

"A 'shoot first, ask questions later' policy is entirely inconsistent with international law, not to mention morally grotesque."If this is true, it is astounding. The government has an obligation under international law to distinguish combatants from noncombatants – and, as far as reasonably possible, to avoid causing noncombatants harm. Direct targeting of noncombatants is a war crime; indeed, it is the prototypical one. It surely need not be explained that the government's obligation is to distinguish combatants from noncombatants while they are still alive, not after they have been killed. A "shoot first, ask questions later" policy is entirely inconsistent with international law, not to mention morally grotesque.

* * *

Reuters: Drones "inhumane", dead al Qaeda man's family says

[Tuesday's drone attack killing Libyan-born al Qaeda operative Abu Yahya al-Libi] is likely to fuel an increasingly fierce debate about the legality and morality of the drones, which have become one of the chief U.S. weapons against al Qaeda but which opponents say stretch the definition of the legitimate use of lethal force. [...]

White House officials say there is nothing in international law that forbids the use of the drones and that, by killing dangerous insurgents, they are making Americans safer.

That view has been challenged by authorities in Pakistan, who are angry because many of the strikes have happened on their soil, and by rights campaigners.

Civil liberties groups argue that the strikes are illegal because they take place outside an active battlefield, meaning the rules of law which allow a combatant to kill their opponent do not apply.

Share This Article

More in: