Hilary Stauffer

UN announces an investigation unit to inquire drone attacks

on 26 October 2012


On 25 October 2012, Ben Emmerson QC, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, announced that a UN investigation unit would be established early next year “to inquire into individual drone attacks…and other forms of targeted killing conducted in counter-terrorism operations.” Emmerson and Christof Heynes, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, are establishing this body in order to investigate individual drone attacks that are alleged to have resulted in civilian deaths.

Emmerson noted that since 9/11, the US and its allies have used the “global war on terror” to justify military actions of seemingly limitless reach. Following in the footsteps of the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has used the “war on terror” – a war without geographical boundaries – to justify targeted killings in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

While States have an obligation to protect their own citizens and, therefore, employ effective counter-terrorism strategies, the Special Rapporteur emphasized that this obligation does not give States the option to disregard the human rights of “those accused or suspected of involvement in acts of terrorism” or the communities in which these individuals reside. A recent report released by Stanford and NYU law schools demonstrated that US drone strike policies in Pakistan terrorise the entire civilian population in North Waziristan. These strikes violate a wide range of human rights: they deprive individuals of their rights to life, to work, to education, to a cultural life, to self-determination, and to physical and mental health.

Emmerson also expressed his opinion that it was “extremely naïve” for the international community to believe that “that international terrorism in all of its modern forms and manifestations is capable of being definitively defeated by military means.” Rather than relying wholly on militaristic means to defeat the global spread of terrorism, the Special Rapporteur stated that it was essential for a holistic approach to be adopted that addresses the factors that compel individuals to resort to terrorist activities. Such an approach requires that human rights and the rule of law be both respected and protected.

To see a copy of the speech that Emmerson gave at Harvard Law School on 25 October, click here.

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