Legality of U.S. Drone Attacks Questioned

Posted on 27/12/2011

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US drone attacks in Somalia and elsewhere may violate international law, Human Rights Watch said last week.

The New York-based group warned President Obama in a letter that his administration’s policy of targeted killings is setting “a dangerous precedent for abusive regimes around the globe to conduct drone attacks or other strikes against anyone labelled a terrorist or militant.”

Several countries, including Iran and China, are said to be developing their own drone capabilities. In addition, the Obama administration is planning to sell drones to allies such as Turkey, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

American air strikes on targets in Somalia have been taking place for at least the past five years. Some have involved use of un-piloted aircraft, such as the killing in June of two alleged leaders of Al Shabaab, which the US labels a terrorist organisation with ties to Al Qa’ida. That has been the only publicly acknowledged US drone attack in Somalia, Human Rights Watch notes. Several others, however, are reported to have taken place in Shabaab-controlled parts of Somalia where independent verification is not possible.

The US has said it is flying reconnaissance drones from bases in Ethiopia and the Seychelles. Drones are also launched from the US military base in Djibouti. In addition, the Pentagon has supplied Ugandan and Burundian troops in Somalia with at least four hand-launched reconnaissance drones. “Your administration has taken few steps to provide greater transparency and accountability in conducting targeted killings, intensifying concerns both in the US and abroad about the lawfulness of these attacks,” HRW says in its letter to Mr Obama.

“The administration suggests that targeted killings can be conducted without geographic limits, making the entire world a battlefield,” the letter adds.

Several hundred people have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan alone in recent years. US officials have said only a few of them were civilians.

HRW points out that targeted use of lethal force “can be legal in operations against a combatant on a genuine battlefield, or in a law enforcement situation in which there is an imminent threat to life and there is no reasonable alternative.”

The letter to the US president adds, “We also recognize the challenges faced in trying to address potential threats that are not in a traditional conflict zone yet are also beyond the reach of any law enforcement.”

HRW urges the Obama administration to clarify publicly its legal rationale for conducting targeted killings and to specify the legal limits on such attacks.

“CIA drone strikes have become an almost daily occurrence around the world, but little is known about who is killed and under what circumstances,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. “So long as the US resists public accountability for CIA drone strikes, the agency should not be conducting targeted killings.”

Several hundred people have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan alone in recent years. US officials have said only a few of them were civilians.

Source: The EastAfrican-By: Kevin Kelley-26.12.2011

 

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Posted in: African papers