31 January 2013, 11:58

UN special rapporteur unveils major issues of drone attacks investigation, but admits “they’re [drones] here to stay”

UN special rapporteur unveils major issues of drone attacks investigation, but admits “they’re [drones] here to stay”

As announced last week, 25 cases of drone attacks by the US, British and Israeli military in Palestine, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be investigated by UN special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism Ben Emmerson. The attacks were reportedly resulted in numerous civilian deaths.

It is expected that Ben Emmerson will accomplish the investigation and deliver a report on the results by this autumn, when the UN will summons for its regular session.

The investigation was launched after Pakistan had claimed drone attacks performed on their territory had resulted in too many civilian deths. Two unnamed permanent members of the UN Security Council, presumably Russia and China, had supported Pakistan's request to conduct an investigation, according to a US media.

In a phone interview with a mass media Emmerson told that the human damage left by drones would be a central purpose of the report.

He also said that he would not shy away from revealing evidence of war crimes should the facts point in that direction. In spite of the fact that the official Obama position is complete secrecy, Emmerson was optimistic that the US would cooperate with his investigation.

Emmerson also shared his position on the drone warfare in general, which makes it clear that he is not going to recommend a blanket ban on the use of drones.

“Let’s face it, they’re here to stay. This technology, as I say, is a reality. It is cheap, both in economic terms and in the risk to the lives of the service personnel who are from the sending state. And for that reason there are real concerns that because it is so cheap, it can be used with a degree of frequency that other, more risk-based forms of engagement like fixed-wing manned aircraft or helicopters are not, and the result is there’s a perception of the frequency and intensity with which this technology is used is exponentially different, and as a result, there is necessarily a correspondingly greater risk of civilian casualties.”

The conversation revealed two major factors that Emmerson was concerned most about. One of them is that the attacks often take place in areas that are densely populated with poorly constructed buildings. Buildings collapsed after the strikes and it caused much more damage than was intended or anticipated. Another concern is the so-called “double tap" attacks in which drones return after a strike to attack rescuers and others.

So far, as Emmerson revealed, no question has been answered by President Obama, but he expressed hope that the US president would participating in the study, as this would be in Obama’s interest.

UN starts investigating 25 cases of drones used by the US, British and Israeli military

The UN has started investigating the consequences of drone attacks in Palestine, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Criticism of the use of drones is gaining momentum because civilians often become drone victims. The UN is planning to investigate 25 cases of drones used by the US, British and Israeli military.

A British human rights lawyer is to lead a UN inquiry into the legality of American drone attacks and their impact on civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and several other countries.

Ben Emmerson, QC, who will head a team of international experts in his capacity as a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, said here on Thursday that the “exponential’’ rise in the use of drone technology represented “a real challenge to the framework of international law”.

“Those states using this technology and those on whose territory it is used are under an international law obligation to establish effective independent and impartial investigations into any drone attack in which it is plausibly alleged that civilian casualties were sustained.’’

The inquiry, which will examine 25 attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, the Palestinian territories and Somalia, follows anger over the loss of innocent civilian lives. Critics have called them “extra-judicial’’ killings.

According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, American drone attacks in Pakistan since 2004 had killed up to 3,461 people, including nearly 900 civilians.

“One area the inquiry is expected to examine is the deliberate targeting of rescuers and funeral-goers by the CIA in Pakistan, as revealed in an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times,’’ the Bureau said.

Mr. Emmerson said the U.N. had decided to investigate the complaints as a “final resort’’ because America and its allies who should have done so had not done it.

“This is not, of course, a substitute for effective official independent investigations by the states concerned,’’ he emphasised.

In response to a question from reporters, he denied that the inquiry was unfairly singling out America. Pointing out that 51 countries had the technology to launch drone attacks, he said Britain was already cooperating and Washington had “not ruled out full cooperation’’.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Ben Emmerson QC, a UN special rapporteur, will reveal the full scope of his review which will include checks on military use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in UK operations in Afghanistan, US strikes in Pakistan, as well as in the Sahel region of Africa where the conflict in Mali has erupted. It will also take evidence on Israeli drone attacks in Palestinian territories.

The newspaper’s report said that about 20 or 30 strikes - selected as representative of different types of attacks - will be studied to assess the extent of any civilian casualties, the identity of militants targeted and the legality of strikes in countries where the UN has not formally recognised there is a conflict.

Depending on its findings, it may recommend further action. Emmerson has previously suggested some drone attacks - particularly those known as "double tap" strikes where rescuers going to the aid of a first blast have become victims of a follow-up strike - could possibly constitute a "war crime", it added.

The inquiry is the result of a request by several nations, including Pakistan and two permanent members of the UN security council.

Between June 2004 and September 2012, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children.

Voice of Russia, The Digital Journal, Interfax, The Jerusalem Post, The Hindu, The News International

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