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UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns speaking in 2013.  (Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré/UN Geneva/flickr/cc)

Police Use of Drones May Threaten Human Rights: UN Expert

Christof Heyns says legality of law enforcement use of remote-controlled weapons must be considered

Andrea Germanos

The increasing use of drones by police forces and private security may pose a threat to human rights, a United Nations independent expert has said.

"An armed drone, controlled by a human from a distance, can hardly do what police officers are supposed to do—use the minimum force required by the circumstances," Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told a UN General Assembly committee Wednesday.

The right to life and human dignity must be considered above any added value of giving police these unmanned weapons, he said.

"The decreased personal involvement of police officers in the deployment of force raises the question, among others, of who is responsible if things go wrong," Heyns added.

The Special Rapporteur made the comments while presenting his report (pdf) on his activities to General Assembly.

That report notes that some uses of "less lethal" weapons—including rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and drones, have lead to death as well as injury. "The danger is that law enforcement officials may argue that the weapons that they use are labeled 'less lethal' and then fail to assess whether the level of force is not beyond that required," the report states.

"It should be asked whether remote-controlled weapons systems should be as readily viewed as legal weapons in the law enforcement context as in armed conflict," Heyns writes in his report.

Among the emerging technology noted in the report is a drone produced by Vanguard Defense Industries that "can be armed with 37-mm and 40-mm grenade launchers, a 12-gauge shotgun with laser designator or can be fitted with an XREP taser with the ability to fire four barbed electrodes that can be shot to a distance of 100 feet, delivering neuromuscular incapacitation to the victim."


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