US 'should hand over footage of drone strikes or face UN inquiry'

The UN special rapporteur on human rights to urge establishing a mechanism to investigate such killings

The US must open itself to an independent investigation into its use of drone strikes or the United Nations will be forced to step in, Ben Emmerson QC said yesterday.

His comments came as Pakistani officials said that a US drone strike had killed at least four militants after targeting their vehicles in North Waziristan on Sunday. Attacks by American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are deeply unpopular in the country, which claims they violate its sovereignty and fan anti-US sentiment.

Only last week cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan vowed to defy Taliban threats to attend a rally in Pakistan's tribal areas aimed at highlighting the human cost of US drone strikes.

Mr Emmerson, a leading London barrister and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, said America is facing mounting global pressure over its use of UAVs and he is preparing a report for the next session of the Human Rights Council in March. The issue, he insists, will “remain at the top of the UN political agenda until some consensus and transparency has been achieved”.

American UAV strikes, most notably in Pakistan and Yemen, have shot up since Barrack Obama came to power. Estimates state that while there were 52 such strikes during George W Bush's time, this number has risen to 282 over the past three and a half years, with officials justifying it has international “self defence” against a stateless enemy.

Mr Emmerson said it was time for the US to open itself up to scrutiny as to the legality of such attacks. While it remains nigh on impossible for observers to establish the truth on the ground in many of areas, each strike is visually recorded and videos could be passed to independent assessors, he explained.

“We can't make a decision on whether it is lawful or unlawful if we do not have the data. The recommendation I have made is that users of targeted killing technology should be required to subject themselves, in the case of each and every death, to impartial investigation. If they do not establish a mechanism to do so, it will be my recommendation that the UN should put the mechanisms in place through the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly and the Office of the High Commissioner”, he said.

He continued: “The Obama administration continues formally to adopt the position that it will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone program, whilst allowing senior officials to give public justifications of its supposed legality in personal lectures and interviews. In reality the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability. There are now a large number of law suits, in different parts of the world, including in the UK, Pakistan and in the US itself, through which pressure for investigation and accountability is building.”

Recently Wajid Shamsui Hasan, Pakistani High Commissioner, said the US strikes “violated” his country and encouraged extremism while last month Navi Pillay, UN Commissioner on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict said she was “seriously concerned” by reports of civilian deaths in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.

Mr Khan, who heads the Pakistan Movement for Justice party (PTI) intends to join a rally in Miranshah, North Waziristan, next month to protest against the US's policy of using drones to target suspected militants, when civilians get caught in the crossfire.

“During the last session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June many states, including Russia, China and Pakistan called for an investigation into the use of drone strikes as a means of targeted killing. I was asked by these states to bring forward proposals on this issue and I am working closely on the subject of drones with Christof Heyns the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary execution. The issue is moving rapidly up the international agenda,” explained Mr Emmerson, who has called for the “end to the conspiracy of silence”.

Last month, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a law suit against senior CIA and military officials over the killing of three Yemeni-American citizens, including a 16-year-old boy. The first hit in September 2011 killed the extremist imam Anwar Al-Aulaqi and alleged al-Qa'ida propagandist Samir Khan.

“Two weeks later, on October 14, US drone strikes killed Anwar Al-Aulaqi's son, 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi as he was eating dinner with his teenage cousin at an open-air restaurant,” said the CCR, claiming that the “escalated and expanded” use of drone strikes since the Obama administration came to power had killed hundreds of civilians amongst the estimated 2,500 deaths.

In May, White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan defended the targeted killings of al-Qa'ida suspects as effective tool to minimise civilian casualties, likening the use of drones to laser surgery eliminating “the cancerous tumour called an al-Qa'ida terrorist”.

A key aspect of any investigation would be whether strikes are taking place within a theatre of war such as Afghanistan or on sovereign territories outside the conflict zone despite US assertions that they are conducting a global war against a stateless enemy.

More than 50 countries worldwide now have the use of UAVs. The most dynamic sector in the aviation industry is estimated to be worth £4 billion a year with millions being poured into researching more sophisticated varieties such as autonomous drones that do not even require remote pilots.

The RAF's Predator MQ-9 Reapers, launched from Kandahar but piloted from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada by 39 Squadron, are used for surveillance in Afghanistan.

MoD figures from May state that UK drones had flown a total of 34,750 hours and fired 281 missiles and laser-guided bombs.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US