Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and countering terrorism has issued his final report into the impact of drone strikes on civilians. Briefly, as I have only just seen it, the report looks at recent civilian casualty rates from drone strikes and examines 30 case studies of drone strikes in which there were reports or indications of civilian casualties
Most importantly the report specifically recommends the UK, the US and Israel release more information about these strikes and calls for panel of experts to further investigate the issue. More soon.
After a relatively quiet summer, the military use of drones is likely to hit the headlines again this autumn
UN Drone Investigation to report in October
Perhaps likely to garner most column inches will be the report of Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, to the UN General Assembly in New York on 25 October. Read more →
It is very rare to get any details of civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan and even rarer to have information about civilian casualties from drone strikes in Afghanistan. Today the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its mid-year report Afghanistan: Protection of civilians in armed conflict (pdf). The report details a 23% increase in civilian casualties over the same period last year. UNAMA attributes 74% of civilian deaths and injuries to Anti-Government Elements, 9% to Pro-Government Forces, 12% to ground engagements between Pro-Government Forces and Anti-Government Elements, with the remaining 4% unattributed. Read more →
Undertaken at the direct request of several states, the inquiry is also in response to what Mr Emmerson called “the increasing international concern surrounding the issue of remote targeted killing through the use of UAVs.” Read more →
A U.N. investigator called on the world body on Friday to set up a panel to study the ethics and legality of unmanned military weapons — an apparent reference to U.S. drones that strike suspected Islamist militants.
In a report to the U.N. General Assembly human rights committee, Christof Heyns said such systems raised “serious concerns that have been almost entirely unexamined by human rights or humanitarian actors.”
“The international community urgently needs to address the legal, political, ethical and moral implications of the development of lethal robotic technologies,” said Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.
It was the second time this year U.N. experts tackled the issue. In June, Heyns’ predecessor, Philip Alston, called for a halt to CIA-directed drone strikes on al Qaeda and Taliban suspects in Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying killings ordered far from the battlefield could lead to a “Playstation” mentality.
The CIA contested Alston’s findings, saying — without confirming it carried out the strikes — that its operations “unfold within a framework of law and close government oversight.”
But Heyns, a South African law professor, said there was a need to discuss responsibility for civilian casualties, how to ensure the use of robots complied with humanitarian law, and standards for developing the technology involved.
Saying the United Nations should take a lead, he urged Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene a group of national representatives, human rights experts, philosophers, scientists and developers to promote a debate on the legal and moral implications of robotic weapons.
The group should discuss the challenges the weapons posed and how the technologies could be used “to promote more effective compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law,” he said.
Among the issues it should study was “the fundamental question of whether lethal force should ever be permitted to be fully automated,” he added.
Heyns’ statement to the U.N. committee did not name any country, weapon system or target in its discussion of robotic technologies.
Under President Barack Obama, the CIA has stepped up drone strikes in the tribal zone of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, targeting high-level al Qaeda and Taliban figures as well as largely unknown foot soldiers.
But Alston’s June report said the United States was just one of 40 countries with drone technology. He named Britain, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Russia and Turkey as also having or seeking the capacity to fire missiles from drones.