U.N. Report Demands “Public Explanation” of 30 Drone Strikes by U.S. and its Allies Resulting in Civilian Deaths

Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Ben Emmerson (photo: United Nations)

The United States and its allies owe the international community an explanation for civilians killed in drone strikes, according to a United Nations (UN) official.


Ben Emmerson, a British attorney who serves as the UN’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, uncovered at least 37 drone attacks that killed non-combatants.


Carried out between 2006 and 2013 by the U.S., the United Kingdom and Israel, the attacks resulted in civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza.


Emmerson analyzed the 37 attacks, from which he identified 30 that he determined the responsible nations have a duty to explain. Specifically, he said in his report (pdf) that international law requires that nations responsible for such incidents offer a “public explanation of the circumstances and the justification for the use of deadly force” impacting civilians.


“In any case in which there have been, or appear to have been, civilian casualties that were not anticipated when the attack was planned, the State responsible is under an obligation to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation of the results,” Emmerson wrote.


The report follows another one that the UN’s special rapporteur released last year in which he argued nations are legally obligated to investigate and verify claims of civilian casualties from drone strikes.


Among the attacks investigated, Emmerson cited one in particular as an example of what governments should do to probe and disclose drone missions that harm civilians.


In February 2010, the U.S. employed drones to attack a convoy of trucks in Afghanistan, killing 23 civilians. The International Security Assistance Force, of which the U.S. is a part and that oversees military operations, investigated the incident and partially declassified its findings.


Emmerson noted that the internal review strongly criticized the drone crew’s actions.


The most recent drone incident cited in Emmerson’s report is last December’s U.S. attack on a wedding procession in Yemen that killed at least 12 people. A number of sources, including a recent Human Rights Watch report (pdf), identified multiple civilian casualties. Although a U.S. internal investigation has not released its results, the Associated Press reported that three unnamed U.S. officials said that investigation concluded there were no civilian deaths.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

UN Report Identifies 30 Drone Strikes That Require ‘Public Explanation’ (by Alice K. Ross, Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism (by Ben Emmerson, U.N. Human Rights Council) (Advance Unedited Draft) (pdf)

A Wedding that Became a Funeral (Human Rights Watch)

UN Report Challenges Legality of Armed Drones (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment