As Pakistan says US Drones killed 400 Civilians, UN Report Demands US Data (Ross)

Alice K. Ross writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

A report by a UN expert urges the US to ‘release its own data on the level of civilian casualties’ caused by drone strikes and attacks the lack of transparency surrounding CIA and US special forces drone operations.

Ben Emmerson, a British barrister and UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, has released the second of two major UN reports in a week to examine the use of drones both in conflict zones and in covert settings.

In the earlier report, Christof Heyns also called for increased transparency around the use of drones. In the new report Emmerson emphasises that this is a vital step to ensuring accountability and redress for the civilian victims of drone strikes.

The Special Rapporteur does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data’
- Ben Emmerson

Emmerson says: ‘The single greatest obstacle to an evaluation of the civilian impact of drone strikes is lack of transparency, which makes it extremely difficult to assess claims of precision targeting objectively.’

Related story – UN expert calls for increased transparency over armed drones

The report says the involvement of the CIA in drone operations has created an ‘almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency’, and he is also critical of the ‘almost invariably classified’ nature of special forces drone operations in Yemen and Somalia. ‘The Special Rapporteur does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data.’

Drones currently operate in an ‘accountability vacuum’, Emmerson says, adding that there is a legal obligation on states to launch a full investigation into claims from ‘any plausible source’ of civilian casualties – including those made by non-governmental organisations. The results of such investigations should be made public, ‘subject to redactions on grounds of national security’, he adds.

He notes that the current director of the CIA John Brennan has called for the release of data relating to civilian casualties. The US government is in the process of moving its drone operations from the CIA to the Department of Defense to improve transparency, he says, adding that he understands this is due to be completed ‘by the end of 2014′.

The report highlights ‘differences of view’ over who should be considered a civilian in situations where non-uniformed fighters live and operate among the civilian population. He points to ‘considerable uncertainty’ over the criteria used to identify individuals as legitimate targets and calls for further clarification.

Emmerson examines US, British and Israeli drone operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Gaza.

Only in the most exceptional of circumstances would it be permissible under international human rights law for killing to be the sole or primary objective of an operation’
- Ben Emmerson

The Pakistani government released data to Emmerson showing at least 400 civilian casualties – a number close to the Bureau’s lower-end estimate – and a further 200 were ‘regarded as probable non-combatants’. Emmerson wrote ‘those figures were likely to be an underestimate’ according to local officials. He told MSNBC there is no reason ‘on the face of it’ to question this data as it echoed independent estimates.

For Yemen drone operations, the report cites the Bureau’s estimate of 21-58 civilian casualties as the highest such figures. But the report does not provide estimates for drone operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Somalia or Gaza, pointing to a lack of official figures specifically covering civilians killed in drone strikes.

Kat Craig, Legal Director of the human rights charity Reprieve, which represents civilian victims of drone strikes, said: ‘This report highlights the US’ failure to reveal any information whatsoever about their shadowy, covert drone programme. Hiding the reality of civilian deaths is not only morally abhorrent but an affront to the sort of transparency that should be the hallmark of any democratic government. Some basic accountability is the very least people in Pakistan and Yemen should expect from the CIA as it rains down Hellfire missiles on their homes and villages.’

Related story – Pakistan government says ‘at least 400′ civilians killed in drone strikes

Emmerson also addresses the legality of drone strikes outside of military conflict areas, saying that where no official conflict exists lethal action will ‘rarely be lawful… because only in the most exceptional of circumstances would it be permissible under international human rights law for killing to be the sole or primary objective of an operation’.

The US claims it can legally carry out such lethal operations – but Emmerson says this ‘gives rise to a number of issues on which there is either no clear international consensus, or United States policy appears to challenge established norms’. The US has claimed that it carries out drone strikes in countries including Pakistan and Yemen in legitimate self-defence against imminent threats and that it is in a state of continuing war against al Qaeda and associated groups.

The report recommends that a clear international legal consensus is reached and Emmerson is currently consulting states with a view to ‘clarifying their position on these questions’.

He writes that he has identified 33 strikes that appear to have led to civilian casualties and ‘undoubtedly raise issues of accountability and transparency’. The full findings on these strikes will be published at a later stage.

A White House spokeswoman, Laura Magnuson, said: ‘We are aware that this report has been released and are reviewing it carefully.’

The reports by Heyns and Emmerson will be presented to the UN General Assembly in New York next week. Also next week on October 22 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will publish reports on drone operations in Pakistan and Yemen respectively.

Mirrored from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

7 Responses

  1. “A White House spokeswoman, Laura Magnuson, said: ‘We are aware that this report has been released and are reviewing it carefully.’”

    In other words, it will be allowed to be ignored much as Malala’s comment to President Obama on drones in Pakistan.

    “Awkwardest and Most Authoritative Ever Comments on Drones: Warfare of words by David Swanson – link to counterpunch.org … President Obama may also have not expected most people to notice or care. The corporate media have virtually ignored this part of a widely-reported meeting.”

  2. “‘The Special Rapporteur does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data’
    - Ben Emmerson”

    Ben Emmerson’s pronouncements regarding the US drone program have provided comic relief since his first trip to Pakistan, which resulted in his gullible (not to say naïve) acceptance of the Foreign Minister’s statement that Pakistan objected to the drones. (Emmerson remains in denial that strategic elements of the Pakistani government were complicit with the US in the drone program.)

    Now Emmerson continues his role as a stand-up comedian by suggesting that he, not the US intelligence community, knows what is and is not important in terms of US national security. Emmerson “does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data.” Perhaps Emmerson should be appointed Director of National Intelligence (DNI), since he is so astute regarding national security issues. (Could we waive the US citizenship requirement?)

    • You’ll never get rid of Pakistani resistant that way, the ones you call terrorists. They were living rather peacefully in their countrty until all hell broke loose next door, in Afghanistan, and we all know why the White House started bombing Afghans, don’t we? If it was ALSO to get Bin Ladin, he was a CIA operative at one time, trained by the CIA, along with hundreds of Taliban.

      The more drone killings, the more enemies the U.S.A. is creating. I can only imagine the uproar in the US if a foreign drone hit US military, let alone US civilians, anywhere outside of continental US. That beind said, all hell would break loose if it happend in the US. One day it might happen…

      Trying to rule the world by economic sanctions, puppet selections and military actions can’t last forever. All empires had an end. Check mankind’s history. The U.S.A. has everything to gain back, in respect at least, and liking will follow, by toning down its military/security rhetorics enforced on the rest of the world. It’s a poor excuse for the 911 inside job…

      • Bin Laden was never a CIA asset. He set up his organization, first as a fundraising effort, and later as a fighting force, for the specific purpose of providing an alternative route for fighting the anti-Soviet jihad without working with the Americans.

        You’re right about there being numerous Taliban figures who had long relationships with the CIA, but the myth that bin Laden did so is a story that news men describe as “too good to check.”

  3. Emmerson correctly identifies Gaza as a region where drone strikes have been in violation of international law.

    The Israeli government has a protocol under which the Israeli Attorney General as a member of the executive branch can authorize the targeted killing of any Palestinian in Gaza.

    Non-military members of Hamas’ political wing have been assassinated by Israel. These killings have been criticized by anti-terrorism experts within Israel as giving more control to the leaders of Hamas’ military arm, hence leading to more militancy and increased violence against Israel.

    The Israeli targeted killings have killed and wounded large numbers of innocent civilians, including children. It has also caused Hamas to import anti-aircraft missiles, which were used for the first time last year against an IDF helicopter. These anti-aircraft missiles can endanger Israeli civilian airliners.

  4. Pakistan does not have an effective control of the tribal areas where the drone strikes are taking place.Once this area is under the effective control of a nation-state and normal law enforcing mechanisms become operative,then the drone strikes,if they continue, will become an international law issue.When that happens,incursions from these areas into Afghanistan will also become an international issue.Pakistan cannot pretend to have no control,and still protest the drone strikes in these areas.
    Sultan.

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