Citing a "dramatic increase" in the United States' use of targeted killings in the last few years, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings has just released a report (PDF) decrying the lack of accountability in the U.S. overseas killings by unmanned drones.
"Disclosure of these killings is critical to ensure accountability, justice and reparation for victims or their families," UN investigator Christof Heyns said in his followup to a 2010 UN report criticizing U.S. practices.
The (U.S.) government should clarify the procedures in place to ensure that any targeted killing complies with international humanitarian law and human rights and indicate the measures or strategies applied to prevent casualties, as well as the measures in place to provide prompt, thorough, effective and independent public investigation of alleged violations.
Citing Pakistani Human Rights Commission figures, Heyns said thousands have been killed in 300 drone strikes in Pakistan alone since 2004. About 20 percent of the dead are believed to be civilians, according to the Pakistani commission, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and the New America Foundation. Although U.S. officials dispute those figures, a new ProPublica report finds that the United States' own estimates of civilian casualties contradict one another.
Human rights law requires that nations make every effort to arrest a suspect, in line with the "principles of necessity and proportionality on the use of force," Heyns said in his report, adding that the United States had failed to respond to the concerns of his predecessor, Philip Alston.
"The Special Rapporteur again requests the Government to clarify the rules that it considers to cover targeted killings... (and) reiterates his predecessor's recommendation that the government specify the bases for decisions to kill rather than capture 'human targets' and whether the State in which the killing takes places has given consent," Heyns said.
Reuters reports that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Monday that it was "unclear that all persons targeted are combatants or directly participating in hostilities."
Human Rights First has similarly questioned the covert U.S. targeted killing program and last month sent a letter to President Obama asking him to clarify its legal basis and confirm that the United States is complying with international law.
The Obama administration has repeatedly defined its authority to kill suspected terrorists more broadly than international law allows. White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said recently that the U.S. may kill all "members" of al Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated forces" regardless of their actual participation in hostilities against the United States. The New York Times reported last month that U.S. officials were considering all military-age males in a strike zone "combatants" and therefore targetable.