UK and US drone attacks to be investigated by United Nations

By staff writers
January 24, 2013

A United Nations investigation into targeted killings will examine the legality of drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

A group of states, including Pakistan, and two permanent members of the UN Security Council, called for the inquiry - which could raise issues of war crimes.

A prominent UK lawyer, Ben Emmerson QC, will lead the investigation, the UN announced this morning (24 January 2013).

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism indicates that drone strikes between June 2004 and September 2012 killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children.

Ben Emmerson QC, a UN special rapporteur, said that some of the legal issues raised by unmanned drones could equally raise issues about manned deployments.

But he told the BBC at lunchtime today that "the frequency and ease with which [drones] can be resorted to", plus large numbers of casualties, and targets specifically situated in high density civilian areas, that caused, which had immediately provoked the complaints and the investigation.

The full scope of the review will include checks on military use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in UK operations in Afghanistan, US strikes in Pakistan, as well as in the Sahel region of Africa where the conflict in Mali has erupted.

It will also take on board evidence on Israeli drone attacks in Palestinian territories, Mr Emmerson confirmed.

Some 20 or 30 strikes, selected as representative of different types of attacks, will be studied to assess the extent of any civilian casualties, the identity of militants targeted and the legality of strikes in countries where the UN has not formally recognised that there is a conflict.

Mr Emmerson has previously suggested that some drone attacks, particularly those known as "double tap" strikes where rescuers going to the aid of a first blast have become victims of a follow-up strike, could possibly constitute a "war crime".

Christian peace campaigner Chris Cole, a former General Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England, is among those who have persistently raised, questioned, and worked against UK involvement in drone attacks.

Until recently, the USA officially denied that it was even using drones, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

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