While China, Venezuela and Brazil criticised the US administration on Friday for the ‘illegal’ use of lethal pilot-less aircraft, Pakistan called for an end to drone strikes in its tribal regions, stressing on how counterproductive the US campaign is.
The UN General Assembly rights committee debate on drones marked the first time that member nations came together to discuss the expanding militarised use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and the international legal issues it raises.
During the debate two UN experts – Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism – called for greater transparency in the use of the remotely piloted aircraft.
Expressing concern about the potential for illegal use of drones, the two experts demanded the United States investigate the allegations of unlawful killings and respect the full range of applicable international law.
“Drones are not an inherently illegal weapon,” Heyns said at a panel that discussed his and Emmerson’s new reports on the legality and transparency issues of drones. “But we need to focus on their use,” he stressed and explained, pointing out that more and more states were likely to use the remote-controlled airborne weapons. “A world where multiple states use such weapons in secrecy is a less secure world.”
He discussed how the application of international law has become problematic as states widened the definition of war theatres. He also explained how secrecy and lack of information regarding appropriate targets in the fight against terrorism and insurgencies also complicates legal matters.
“Both states using drones and states on whose territory drones are used have their own obligations to respect international standards and prevent violations,” he said in his own report.
During the debate, Heyns and Emmerson agreed that transparency was integral for human rights protections. “I urge states to declassify, to the maximum extent possible, information relevant to their lethal extra-territorial counterterrorism operations,” Emmerson said emphatically.
He also showed a reconstruction of a drone strike that reportedly killed and injured dozens of civilians when it hit a jirga in North Waziristan.
He said it was among a number of reconstructions that had examined particular strikes and which showed that it was possible to provide a degree of accuracy in resolving competing claims.
Pakistan decries drones, US defends them
“In Pakistan, all drone strikes are a chilling reminder that reprisal strikes by terrorists are around the corner,” Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Masood Khan told the UN General Assembly debate.
Civilians have suffered ‘inhumane’ deaths and the strikes have ‘radicalised’ public opinion in the country, he said. “We call for an immediate cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan.”
However, a US diplomat at the UN debate highlighted an Obama speech in May in which he said the drone attacks on al Qaeda and the Taliban were ‘necessary, legal and just’. The representative said the US government was giving ‘close attention’ to Emmerson’s report.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2013.
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