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UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Countering Terrorism: Drone Strike Inquiry

Report on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Published October 17, 2013

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Countering Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, released an interim report on his study of drone strikes and targeted killings on October 17, 2013. The study, which began in January 2013 and will issue a final report in 2014, reports on the use of remotely piloted aircraft in counter-terrorism operations.

This report, along with the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, will be debated at the UN General Assembly on October 25, 2013.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

If used in strict compliance with the principles of international humanitarian law, remotely piloted aircraft are capable of reducing the risk of civilian casualties in armed conflict by significantly improving the situational awareness of military commanders.

78. Having regard to the duty of States to protect civilians in armed conflict, the Special Rapporteur considers that, in any case in which civilians have been, or appear to have been, killed, the State responsible is under an obligation to conduct a prompt, independent and im partial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation. This obligation is triggered whenever there is a plausible indication from any source that civilian casualties may have been sustained, including where the facts are unclear or the information is partial or circumstantial. The obligation arises whether the attack was initiated by remotely piloted aircraft or other means, and whether it occurred within or outside an area of active hostilities.

79. The Special Rapporteur identifies here in a number of legal questions on which there is currently no clear international consensus. He considers that there is an urgent and imperative need to seek agreement between States on these issues. To that end he is currently consulting Member States with a view to clarifying their position on these questions. He urges all States to respond as comprehensively as possible.

80. In particular, the Special Rapporteur urges the United States to further clarify its position on the legal and factual issues raised herein; to declassify, to the maximum extent possible, information re levant to its lethal extraterritorial counter-terrorism operations; and to release its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of remotely piloted aircraft, together with information on the evaluation methodology used.

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