Targeted killings with combat drones increasingly violate international law

UN special envoy on extrajudicial executions calls for legal rules to curb rampant global use of combat drones

Under the Bush administration, in the "Global war on terrorism" begun using combat drones to monitor, hunt down and kill suspected adversaries and. The use of combat drones became particularly popular for targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in the Pakistani area bordering Afghanistan, without having to officially declare war operations in Pakistan. The Pakistani government has so far tolerated this undeclared drone warfare, seeing the cross-border use of U.S. soldiers and manned aircraft as a violation of sovereignty.

Drones have become the first successful remotely piloted robotic systems for the U.S. military, while existing ground combat robots have not yet been deployed. Year after year, more and more unarmed and armed drones were deployed in conflict zones. Under U.S. President Obama, the waging of war with drones to kill potential adversaries has been further expanded, while hunting them down obeys the maxim that it is better to kill them than to capture them, so as not to run into new problems in dealing with detained "enemy combatants" to advised. Politically, targeted killing seems to be more practical and harmless than capture.

Only recently has a discussion begun in the U.S. – but almost exclusively in the U.S. – as to whether the remotely operated combat drones can be used to kill people "targeted killings" are legitimate under the laws of war and human rights (Does the U.S. Drone War Violate International Law??, Are targeted killings with drones self-defense or murder?). Now Philip Alston, the UN special envoy for extralegal executions, has published a report for the UN Human Rights Council on the use of combat drones, saying they have increasingly been used in situations that violate international law. Especially the USA became more and more inclined to use them for killing people worldwide. The states have so far failed to create a legal basis for this. Alston is a law professor and director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.

It is also worrying that there are no rules on who can be targeted: "The international community must push harder to demand accountability." Of course, this is already formulated, because so far the international community does not care about it, but this leads, as Alston rightly complains, to the fact that especially the USA now sets the rules for the use of combat drones, which then become a model for other states. There is only a very vaguely defined "license to kill", but above all a vacuum of responsibility.

Alston does not fully condemn targeted killings, i.e. the intended killing of a specific person. There may be circumstances in which they are legal. They are allowed to be used in armed conflicts, "when they are directed against combatants or civilians who commit acts similar to combat directly." But they were just increasingly used far from the combat zones. Here he criticizes the "9/11 Law", that the U.S. government has given itself to use force in other countries on the basis of self-defense, because they are in an armed conflict with the Taliban, al-Qaida and other groups associated with them, practically worldwide. Even if al-Qaeda and others do not abide by any rules, governments should not simply throw them overboard:

This expansive and open interpretation of the right to self-defense goes a long way toward destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force. If this was also invoked by other states against those they suspected of being terrorists and attacked them, chaos would break out.

Phili Alston

As for the problem of accountability, Alston refers primarily to the U.S. drone war in the Pakistani border area, where the CIA has already killed hundreds of people, including civilians. But the rules have not been communicated to the international communities, so the criteria for selecting people to kill are unclear, as are guidelines to ensure legality and consequences if innocent people are killed:

In a situation where it is not communicated who was killed and for what reason, and whether civilians died, the legal principle of international accountability is comprehensively violated by definition.

Philip Alston

Alston requires, first and foremost, that states that carry out or intend to carry out targeted killings make public the legal basis they have invoked and justify why this should be in accordance with international law. If this takes place in another country, this state must give its consent openly, together with the reasons for it. States had to be required to report the number of innocent people killed and to outline the measures to prevent it. In addition, it was necessary to ensure that the incidents could be publicly and independently verified. In addition, it is necessary to ensure that offenders who violate the rules are prosecuted and punished (although all this would also amount to, "extralegal executions" zu legalisieren).

However, as long as U.S. friendly states do not change their minds, presumably wanting to leave open the possibility for themselves to act similarly to eliminate opponents with targeted killings wherever they may be, nothing will happen and the practice will continue to spread. Wenn dies in Pakistan, Somalia oder im Jemen, also weit entfernt, stattfindet, mag man das verdrangen. But one only has to wait for drone attacks – similar to the abductions practiced by the U.S. – to take place in one’s own country, so that the risk of this practice finally becomes clear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *