September 22, 2014 – Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council—a 47-member body tasked with monitoring, promoting and protecting human rights around the world—convened an expert panel during its current session in Geneva to address the international law obligations of states in using lethal force through armed drones and the human rights impact on those affected. The discussion was the first of its kind in the Council—a reflection of growing concern in the international community about the practice of “targeted killings” using armed drones. CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, who participated as a panelist, issued this statement after the discussion:
The premise of the US off-battlefield drone killing program, which has operated in multiple countries, for multiple years, leaving thousands of people dead and injured, including hundreds of children, mostly without acknowledgement or redress, is this: that the United States may use armed force in other countries without their consent; on the basis of political decisions about whether they are too weak to address threats to the satisfaction of the United States; in response to “imminent” threats that do not require immediacy; against targets and bystanders far from any battlefield; and without needing to provide any legal or factual explanation for its conduct to the public, most members of Congress, or the courts. Sitting in the Council today, it was hard to believe that the United States would accept these claims if they were asserted by another country. And it was alarming to imagine a scenario where other countries begin asserting the same license, acting on US precedent.Today’s discussion was an important step toward bringing to bear further international scrutiny on this program. In statements during the discussion, a number of countries affirmed the adequacy of existing international legal norms and cautioned against rewriting or relaxing those standards; and virtually all called for accountability and greater transparency, including of investigations into civilian harm. The United States’ contribution began with objecting to the Council’s decision to convene the discussion at all. The delegate then restated the government’s commitment to transparency—despite that the public’s clearest understanding of the program rests on a policy crib sheet—and noted that the government provides “ex gratia” payments in some instances: perhaps a reference to possible payments made to victims of a US drone strike on a wedding party in Yemen last year. Despite possibly being the source of the $1 million the victims quietly received, none of the 27 killed and injured were civilians, according to the government’s public statements.