UN Report Challenges Legality of Armed Drones

Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Christof Heyns (photo: Jean-Marc Ferré, United Nations)

Drone warfare by the United States and other nations has come under attack from the United Nations, with a top official questioning the legality of using unmanned aircraft to kill foreign citizens.


Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said in a new report (pdf) that countries have relied on “wide and permissive interpretations” of international law to justify lethal drone attacks.


Such criticism goes to the heart of the Obama administration’s justification for using drones to assassinate foreigners and American citizens residing outside the U.S.


Heyns also called on governments to be less secretive about drones and publicly reveal details of their use.


Such nations have an obligation to reveal who is being targeted as well as how many have been injured or killed through drone strikes, according to Heyns.


In addition, he expressed concern that drone technology has made it easier for nations “to deploy deadly and targeted force on the territories” of others.


Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union agreed with Heyns, telling the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: “Once again, a top UN rights official has confirmed that the international legal framework restricting the use of lethal force is clear and doesn’t need to change, but that the ease with which lethal drones can be used threatens that framework and the right to life.  Violations of law and the right to life are real under the US targeted killing program, and the precedent it is setting for other countries such as China, Russia, or Iran is a very dangerous one, which the U.S. may well come to regret.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

UN Expert Calls for Increased Transparency over Armed Drones (by Alice Ross, Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions (United Nations)

U.N. Calls for Global Ban on Autonomous Killer Robots (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Human Rights Violations Outlined by U.N. Rights Commissioner (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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