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UN Human Rights Body Slams US Over Targeted Assassinations

US must provide justification, accountability for drone policies, says UN Human Rights Committee

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The United States "should revisit its position regarding legal justifications for the use of deadly force through drone attacks," a UN human rights body stated Thursday.

In its concluding observations on the United States' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a U.S.-ratified treaty that outlines basic human rights, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a slew of criticisms to the U.S. on its failures.

Among those criticisms is the U.S. drone policy. Echoing what rights and justice groups have long charged, the UN body expressed concern over the justification and lack of accountability for the targeted killings, as well as civilian casualties.

In its recommendations, the body writes that the U.S.

should: (a) ensure that any use of armed drones complies fully with its obligations under article 6 of the Covenant, including in particular with respect to the principles of precaution, distinction and proportionality in the context of an armed conflict; (b) subject to operational security, disclose the criteria for drone strikes, including the legal basis for specific attacks, the process of target identification and the circumstances in which drones are used; (c) provide for independent supervision and oversight over the specific implementation of regulations governing the use of drone strikes; (d) in armed conflict situations, take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians in specific drone attacks and to track and assess civilian casualties, as well as all necessary precautionary measures in order to avoid such casualties; (e) conduct independent, impartial, prompt and effective investigations of allegations of violations of the right to life and bring to justice those responsible; (f) provide victims or their families with an effective remedy where there has been a violation, including adequate compensation, and establish accountability mechanisms for victims of allegedly unlawful drone attacks who are not compensated by their home governments.

Among those also demanding such accountability are Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and film director Robert Greenwald, whose eighth full-length documentary film explores the impact of U.S. drone strikes. They write in an op-ed published Thursday:


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When civilian deaths have been alleged, as they have been in Datta Khel [,a notorious drone strike in North Waziristan}, the public has a right to understand the merit of these allegations, and the government has a responsibility to tell us the truth. If the U.S. government doesn’t have the answers, then it has a responsibility to find out. It should launch an investigation, and disclose the full findings to the public. We want answers – for better, or for worse.

But this week, the U.S. government did the opposite of that. In fact, it said that it won’t participate in U.N. Human Rights Council negotiations regarding a resolution that seeks greater transparency and accountability in drone strikes. The draft resolution urges States to maintain transparent records on drone strikes, and reportedly encourages independent investigations in incidents where human rights violations have occurred – such as civilian casualties of drone strikes. The resolution will come up for a vote this week, and the U.S. is not expected to support it. That is a mistake.

It’s time for our government to shed some light on its drone practices. Transparency, as uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, is an essential part of our democracy. Americans need the facts – the who, what, when, where, and [most importantly] why – in order to decide if the benefits of these strikes outweigh the negatives. And for the people in other countries, whose lives are so profoundly impacted by America’s drone activities [...], they deserve some closure too.

Among the Committee's other recommendations for the U.S. are that it

  • reconsider its position that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaty does not apply to its military operations abroad;
  • declassify and make public the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on torture;
  • and prosecute those responsible for unlawful killings, torture or other ill-treatment, unlawful detention, or enforced disappearances under the “enhanced interrogation techniques” program.

The Committee's rebuke of U.S. policies also included the criminalization of homelessness, racial bias in the judicial system and the death penalty, solitary confinement, continued detention at the Guantanamo Bay prison, discriminatory voting practices, and NSA surveillance.


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