The United Nations called on all states on Friday to ensure that the use of armed drones complies with international law, backing a proposal from Pakistan seen as taking aim at the United States.
The resolution presented by Pakistan on behalf of co-sponsors, including Yemen and Switzerland, was passed by 27 countries in the 47-member Geneva based UN Human Rights Council. The United States, Britain and France opposed the resolution while 14 other members abstained from the voting.
However, the resolution did not single out any state.
The United States is the biggest drone user in conflicts including those in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia.
“The purpose of this resolution is not to shame or name anyone, as we are against this approach,” Pakistan’s Ambassador Zamir Akram told the UN Human Rights Council. “It is about supporting a principle.”
The UN Human Rights Council “urges all states to ensure that any measures employed to counter terrorism, including the use of remotely piloted aircraft or armed drones, comply with their obligations under international law [...] in particular the principles of precaution, distinction and proportionality”, read the resolution.
The text voiced concern at civilian casualties resulting from the use of remotely-piloted aircraft or armed drones, as highlighted by the UN special investigator on counterterrorism Ben Emmerson in a recent report. It called on UN human rights boss Navi Pillay to organise expert discussions on armed drones and report back in September.
The United States, Britain and France said it was not appropriate for the forum to put weapons systems on its agenda. The Obama administration preferred to discuss drones under an initiative of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which it hoped would provide a ‘non-politicised forum’ where military experts can discuss law of war issues, Paula Schriefer, US deputy assistant secretary of state, told the talks.
“The United States is committed to ensuring that our actions, including those involving remotely piloted aircraft, are undertaken in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law and with the greatest possible transparency, consistent with our national security needs,” she said.
Akram, speaking before the vote, said opposition “can only lead to the conclusion that these states are guilty of violating applicable international law and demonstrate that they are afraid of being exposed in the expert panel”.
A separate UN human rights watchdog called on the Obama administration on Thursday to limit its use of drones and to curb US surveillance activities.
Landmark achievement: FO calls it ‘diplomatic success’
The adoption of the resolution underscores the success of Pakistan’s diplomacy in garnering international support for its principled position on the use of armed drones in violation of international law, said Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam on Friday.
She was referring to the UN resolution presented by Pakistan that called on all countries to ensure that the use of armed drones complies with international law. The landmark resolution was adopted as a result of the “Mission’s close coordination with like-minded states to sensitise the international community on this important legal matter at the United Nations”, she said, adding that this will strengthen the country’s efforts to address the issue.
Pakistan has consistently raised the issue at all relevant international forums, including the United Nations. In November 2013, Pakistan had successfully included references on the use of drones in a UN General Assembly resolution that urged member states to comply with their obligations under international law, explained Aslam.
Other UN bodies where Pakistan has raised this concern include the UN Security Council, Committees of UN General Assembly dealing with Disarmament and International Security issues and Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, she added.
The resolution was adopted at a time when the US significantly scaled down its deadly campaign in the tribal areas at the request of Pakistani government, which is seeking a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The current lull in drone strikes is the longest since the US launched its drone campaign in the tribal areas in 2004.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2014.