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UN Special Rapporteur Questions Legality of US Use of Drones

UN Special Rapporteur Questions Legality of US Use of Drones

UN Special Rapporteur Questions Legality of US Use of Drones

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The U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings says the use of armed unmanned aircraft by the United States to hunt down terrorists could be a violation of international law. Philip Alston said Tuesday that Washington must explain how it is sure the United States is not killing people indiscriminately with these aircraft.

U.S. officials have never confirmed the use of Predator drones, but it is widely reported that the Central Intelligence Agency has used them to kill suspected terrorist leaders operating in Pakistan's largely ungoverned tribal areas along its border with Afghanistan.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston questioned the legality of their use under international law. "My concern is that these drones, these Predators, are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions are not, in fact, being carried out through the use of these weapons," he said.

U.S. officials never acknowledge these strikes, saying they do not discuss operational or intelligence matters.

The Special Rapporteur, who is an independent expert appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, said the U.S. response has been "untenable" and that Washington needs to be more willing to discuss aspects of its drone program. "Otherwise you have the really problematic bottom line, which is that the Central Intelligence Agency is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws," he said.

Alston said the United States should explain who is running the program and what precautions are being taken to ensure that these weapons are used within the framework of international law. He added that there must also be accountability and review mechanisms in place regarding their use.