Impunity for Killing by Drones
(IDN) – "If you use drones you must confirm and report who they
killed," international lawyers say, adding: "Drones don't
allow hit and run." In fact, states that authorize or use armed
drones as well as those who launch and control them are obliged to
identify the deceased so as to provide reparations or compensation for
possible wrongful killing, injury and other offences.
A new report, 'Drone Attacks, International Law, and the Recording of
Civilian Casualties of Armed Conflict', published on June 23, 2011 by
London-based think tank Oxford Research Group (ORG), says. "There
is a legal requirement to bury the dead according to the rites of the
religion to which they belonged, and this may not be in mass or unmarked
Speaking at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Dr Susan Breau, the
report's lead author and Professor of International Law at Flinders
University, said: "It is high time to implement a global casualty
recording mechanism which includes civilians so that finally every
casualty of every conflict is identified. The law requires it, and
drones provide no exemption from that requirement."
The report's key findings are:
- There is a legal requirement to identify all casualties that result
from any drone use, under any and all circumstances.
- The universal human right which specifies that no-one be
"arbitrarily" deprived of his or her life depends upon the
identity of the deceased being established, as do reparations or
compensation for possible wrongful killing, injury and other offences.
- The responsibility to properly record casualties is a requirement that
extends to states who authorise or agree the use of drones, as well as
those who launch and control them, but the legal (as well as moral) duty
falls most heavily on the latter.
- There is a legal requirement to bury the dead according to the rites
of the religion to which they belonged, and this may not be in mass or
unmarked graves. The site of burial must be recorded, particularly in
the event that further investigation is required.
- A particular characteristic of drone attacks is that efforts to
disinter and identify the remains of the deceased may be daunting, as
with any high explosive attacks on persons. However, this difficulty in
no way absolves parties such as those above from their responsibility to
identify all the casualties of drone attacks.
- Another characteristic of drone attacks is that as isolated strikes,
rather than part of raging battles, there is no need to delay until the
cessation of hostilities before taking measures to search for, collect
and evacuate the dead.
PAKISTAN, YEMEN, AND BEYOND
ORG also provides a set of specific recommendations addressing the
current situation in Pakistan and Yemen, where the issue of drone
strikes by the United States and the recording of their casualties is of
real and practical urgency.
According to the report, while legal duties fall upon all the parties
mentioned, it is the United States (as the launcher and controller of
drones) which has least justification to shirk its responsibilities.
The implications of these findings go well beyond the particularities of
these weapons, these countries, and these specific uses. The legal
obligations enshrined as they are in international humanitarian law,
international human rights law, and domestic law, are binding on all
parties at all times in relation to any form of violent killing or
injury by any party.
Elaborating on the report's implications, Dr Breau said: "States,
individually and collectively, need to plan how to work towards
conformance with these substantial bodies of law. Members of civil
society, particularly those that seek the welfare of the victims of
conflict, have a new opportunity to press states towards fulfilling
their obligations under law.
"This is not asking for the impossible. The killing of Osama Bin
Laden suggests the lengths to which states will go to confirm their
targets when they believe this to be in their own interest. Had the
political stakes in avoiding mistaken or disputed identity not been so
high, Bin Laden (and whoever else was in his home) would almost
certainly have been typical candidates for a drone attack."
Commenting on the report, Paul Rogers, ORG's Consultant on Global
Security and Professor at Bradford University Peace Studies Department,
"Armed drones are fast becoming the weapons of choice by the United
States and its allies in South Asia and the Middle East, yet their use
raises major questions about legality which have been very largely
ignored. A key and salutary finding of this report is that drone users
cannot escape a legal responsibility to expose the human consequences of
their attacks. This hugely important and detailed analysis addresses
some of the most significant issues involved and deserves the widest
coverage, not least in military, legal and political circles."
The Oxford Research Group is a leading independent think-tank that has
been influential for 30 years in pioneering the idea of sustainable
approaches to security as an alternative to global conflict, through
original research, wide-ranging dialogue, and practical policy
recommendations. ORG is a registered charity, and is based in London.
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