On June 3 and 4, Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, gave his annual presentation to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. In his annual report, Alston, who is also John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, assessed his office’s key activities during the six years of his term as special rapporteur, proposed wide-ranging reforms, and reviewed the law and policy of unlawful killings. Among the 10 documents he submitted to the U.N. were in-depth reports on targeted killings, election-related killings, and police accountability as well as country reports on Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Albania, and follow-up country reports on Brazil and the Central African Republic, and a report of all the communications he engaged in with governments over the last year.

Photo of Philip AlstonAlston opened his remarks to the Council by calling for “objective and impartial international investigation” into the May 30 attack on the humanitarian flotilla off Gaza, as well as “allegations that as many as 30,000 persons were killed in Sri Lanka in the closing months of the conflict.”
In his report on targeted killings, Alston acknowledged that they may be lawful in the limited context of armed conflict, but he strongly criticized the use of such killings “far from the battle zone”, and the lack of transparency and accountability in targeted killings operations. He especially questioned the use of CIA-operated drones, because the U.S. does not disclose, “when the CIA is authorized to kill, how it ensures killings are legal, and what follow-up there is when civilians are illegally killed.”  Alston said that “Intelligence agencies, which by definition are determined to remain unaccountable except to their own paymasters, have no place in running programs that kill people in other countries.”

In his reports on election-related killings and police accountability, Alston focused on both the problems and possible solutions. For example, his police report found that one of the major causes of police killings was the failure of many governments to hold police perpetrators accountable, and he proposed best practices for creating effective police oversight mechanisms. 

In his report on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Alston strongly criticized a U.N. supported Congolese army operation that led to brutal killings of civilians, and he called for significantly stronger civilian protection by both the government and the U.N. In his follow-up report on Brazil, Alston noted that while the government had been very cooperative and had implemented some important reforms, police have continued to kill at alarming levels, and that in some areas the phenomena of “resistance” killings by police had actually worsened.

These reports to the Human Rights Council are Alston’s last as special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, a position he has held since 2004 and will leave in July. In his remarks, Alston said that he wanted, “to thank my extraordinary colleagues at NYU School of Law's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice who have provided invaluable assistance to me.” He closed by thanking the “human rights defenders in the many countries in which I have worked, without whose amazing courage and dedication to the cause my own work would have achieved very little. Many face death on a daily basis in struggling to protect human rights.”

Posted June 7, 2010