US drone attacks killing civilians constitute 'war crimes' says top UN official in Geneva
The US policy of using aerial drones to carry out targeted killings presents a major challenge to the system of international law that has endured since the second world war, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns said at a UNHRC Geneva seminar on Monday June 18 following the release of 28-pageUN report on US drone attacks.
He told the conference in Geneva that President Obama's attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, carried out by the CIA, would encourage other states to flout long-established human rights standards.
In his strongest critique so far of drone strikes, Heyns suggested some may even constitute "war crimes".
If it is true, he said, that "there have been secondary drone strikes on rescuers who are helping (the injured) after an initial drone attack, those further attacks are a war crime".
Heyns ridiculed the US suggestion that targeted UAV strikes on al-Qaida or allied groups were a legitimate response to the 9/11 attacks. "It's difficult to see how any killings carried out in 2012 can be justified as in response to [events] in 2001," he said. "Some states seem to want to invent new laws to justify new practices".
The [U.S.] government should clarify the procedures in place to ensure that any targeted killing complies with international humanitarian law and human rights and indicate the measures or strategies applied to prevent casualties, as well as the measures in place to provide prompt, thorough, effective and independent public investigation of alleged violations.
In a 28-page report addressed to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Christof Heyns, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said that Washington must clarify the legal basis for the policy of killing suspected al-Qaida and Taliban leaders and associates rather than trying to capture them.
“The government should clarify the procedures in place to ensure that any targeted killing complies with international humanitarian law and human rights and indicate the measures or strategies applied to prevent casualties, as well as the measures in place to provide prompt, thorough, effective and independent public investigation of alleged violations,” the report says.
In his report, Heyns cites figures from the Pakistan Human Rights Commission that claim American drone strikes killed at least 957 people in Pakistan in 2010 alone. The report also states that since 2004, roughly 20 percent of the thousands of people killed by drones overseas have been civilians.
Heyns says that international humanitarian law mandates that every effort be made to arrest a suspect and any use of force “comply with the principles of necessity and proportionality.”
Washington, he says, has failed to respond satisfactorily to concerns voiced by others, including his predecessor, that have raised questions about U.S. drone policy.
The 47-member Geneva UNHRC forum was to discuss the issue on Tuesday, June 26.
- Asian Tribune -