The UN’s foremost expert on extrajudicial killing has called for international restrictions on the use of armed drones.
Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, made the recommendation in his latest report to the body’s Human Rights Council.
His report highlights “serious concerns” that US drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia break international law, saying: “Some attacks […] may not have occurred within the confines of an armed conflict, and as such should be measured by the more stringent requirements of international human rights law, which they almost certainly did not meet.”
He proposed a new set of minimum international standards for states using armed drones, such as the US and UK.
Covert US drone strikes have led to the deaths of thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – countries with which the US is not at war. In January, an investigation by legal charity Reprieve into a US strike on a Yemeni wedding party prompted US officials to acknowledge the seriousness of reports of civilian deaths, and say the strike was being investigated by administration officials.
Kat Craig, Legal Director of Reprieve’s Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team, said: “This report rightly points out the desperate need for more transparency over the US’ secretive drone programme. What explanation can we offer the family of the nine-year-old boy droned on his way home from school in Yemen, or the young Pakistani girl who saw her grandmother killed whilst picking vegetables in a field? The use of these weapons must be urgently reviewed and, unless appropriate levels of transparency and accountability can be identified, indefinitely halted.”