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Activists staging a die-in to commemorate the innocent people killed by lethal drones. (Image: CodePink))

UN Investigator to US: End 'Conspiracy of Silence' on Drone Strikes

Common Dreams staff

The secrecy surrounding the U.S. use of drone attacks must end, and each drone strike carried out by the U.S. should be independently investigated, London barrister and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism Ben Emmerson said Sunday. 

Emmerson is preparing a report for the next session of the Human Rights Council in March covering the use of drone attacks, which have spiked since Obama's presidency.

He questioned the legality of the drone strikes and noted the growing global outrage over their use.

“We can't make a decision on whether it is lawful or unlawful if we do not have the data. The recommendation I have made is that users of targeted killing technology should be required to subject themselves, in the case of each and every death, to impartial investigation. If they do not establish a mechanism to do so, it will be my recommendation that the UN should put the mechanisms in place through the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly and the Office of the High Commissioner.”

“The Obama administration continues formally to adopt the position that it will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone program, whilst allowing senior officials to give public justifications of its supposed legality in personal lectures and interviews. In reality the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability. There are now a large number of law suits, in different parts of the world, including in the UK, Pakistan and in the US itself, through which pressure for investigation and accountability is building.”

“During the last session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June many states, including Russia, China and Pakistan called for an investigation into the use of drone strikes as a means of targeted killing. I was asked by these states to bring forward proposals on this issue and I am working closely on the subject of drones with Christof Heyns the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary execution. The issue is moving rapidly up the international agenda.”

Emmerson's comments come after a flurry of drone strikes this weekend in Pakistan that killed at least 15.

In June, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, questioned the legality of U.S. drone strikes at a news conference in Islamabad, saying. “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.”

Pillay's comments were followed days later by a report from UN investigator and special rappateur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns, who blasted the drone program.  "Thousands of innocent people, including women and children, have been murdered in these indiscriminate attacks," he said.


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