At an international conference today in Geneva, Switzerland, international law and human rights experts told of the dire human rights implications of the US targeted killing program.
The conference, put together by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other rights groups, heard from the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, among others, who warned that the ever expanding use of drone strikes threaten 50 years of international law.
Heyns said hat President Obama's attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, are encouraging other states to also neglect human rights standards that have existed since World War II.
At the conference, Pakistan's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Zamir Akram called for international legal action to halt the "totally counterproductive attacks" by the US in his country, the Guardian/UK reports.
Heyns went so far as to claim that such actions may constitute international war crimes.
Heyns countered the suggestion in Washington that drone strikes, on targets assumed to be linked to al-Qaida, are a legitimate response to the 9/11 attacks. "It's difficult to see how any killings carried out in 2012 can be justified as in response to [events] in 2001. Some states seem to want to invent new laws to justify new practices," he stated.
Heyns went on to to add that the time has come to end the "conspiracy of silence" over drone attacks and "shine the light of independent investigation" by the UN and other agencies.
Leading up to today's conference, ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi stated, “The United States has cobbled together its own legal framework for targeted killing, with standards that are far less stringent than the law allows. Senior U.S. government officials have claimed self-defense and law of war authority to target and kill suspected terrorists in states with which and in which the United States is not at war, based on largely secret legal criteria, entirely secret evidence, and a secret process.”
Late last night, the Obama administration rejected requests by the ACLU and the New York Times for documents relating to the US military's drone and targeted killing campaigns.
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The US policy of using aerial drones to carry out targeted killings presents a major challenge to the system of international law that has endured since the second world war, a United Nations investigator has said.
Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, told a conference in Geneva that President Obama's attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, carried out by the CIA, would encourage other states to flout long-established human rights standards.
In his strongest critique so far of drone strikes, Heyns suggested some may even constitute "war crimes". His comments come amid rising international unease over the surge in killings by remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Addressing the conference, which was organised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a second UN rapporteur, Ben Emmerson QC, who monitors counter-terrorism, announced he would be prioritising inquiries into drone strikes.
The London-based barrister said the issue was moving rapidly up the international agenda after China and Russia this week jointly issued a statement at the UN Human Rights Council, backed by other countries, condemning drone attacks.
If the US or any other states responsible for attacks outside recognised war zones did not establish independent investigations into each killing, Emmerson emphasised, then "the UN itself should consider establishing an investigatory body". [...]
Heyns told the Guardian later that his future inquiries are likely to include the question of whether other countries, such as the UK, share intelligence with the US that could be used for selecting individuals as targets. A legal case has already been lodged in London over the UK's alleged role in the deaths of British citizens and others as a consequence of US drone strikes in Pakistan.
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ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi delivered a statementat the U.N. Human Rights Council today calling on the U.S. government to provide transparency and accountability in its targeted killing program. While noting that targeted killings may be lawful under some exceptional circumstances, Shamsi emphasized that:
“The United States has cobbled together its own legal framework for targeted killing, with standards that are far less stringent than the law allows. Senior U.S. government officials have claimed self-defense and law of war authority to target and kill suspected terrorists in states with which and in which the United States is not at war, based on largely secret legal criteria, entirely secret evidence, and a secret process.”
To date the U.S. government officially claims the program is secret and has failed to “disclose who has been killed, the number of collateral civilian deaths, and the outcome of any government investigation into mistakes or wrongful targeted killings.” In a statement before the Council earlier in the day, the Swiss representative also expressed concern over the targeted killing program and called upon the U.S. to respect international law in its use of drone strikes.
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