Alston says drone attacks on Pakistan-Afghanistan border may violate international law

John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law Philip Alston reports that the United States government’s use of unmanned drones or predators to carry out targeted executions may be violating international law. Alston is the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and discussed the drone program as part of a report to the United Nations General Assembly on October 27. The report covered his investigations of extrajudicial killings in 2009 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Kenya, and the United States.

Alston originally raised concerns over U.S. drone attacks in a June 1 report to the Human Rights Council. “Although the U.S. Government informed the Human Rights Council in June that it would study my report, since that time I have heard nothing,” Alston says. “In the meantime, the number of killings by unmanned drones has escalated significantly, even as critical questions remain about who is being targeted, on what legal basis, and the measures the U.S. is taking to ensure that its attacks are lawful.”

In the October 26 issue of The New Yorker, Jane Mayer described the increased use of predator drone strikes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border by the C.I.A. Mayer cited a new study by the New America Foundation, which reported that 42 drone attacks had been authorized by President Obama in his first nine and a half months in office—more than George W. Bush authorized in his final three years in office. The study claims that since 2006, 82 U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan have killed between 760 and 1,000 people, and that about one-third of those killed were civilians. Mayer wrote that “there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy.”  She also described Alston’s efforts to obtain information from the government and his conclusion that the United States is currently acting in an “accountability void.”

In an interview with Democracy Now, Alston added that he is calling for the details of the predator drone program to be disclosed, and that the U.S. government has not made clear what legal basis it has for carrying out the strikes or what rules, if any, are in place to govern these C.I.A. actions. “Unless the program is very strictly controlled, the opportunities for abuse are immense.” In his press release, Alston states that although there are circumstances in which such missile strikes could be legal, “unless the U.S. Government moves to answer these questions, it will increasingly be perceived as carrying out indiscriminate killings in violation of international law.”

Posted on October 30, 2009