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March 29, 2014

Use of drones should be under global law

 
March 29, 2014

GENEVA: The United Nations called on all states on Friday to ensure that the use of armed drones complies with international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, backing a proposal from Pakistan.

A resolution presented by Pakistan on behalf of co-sponsors, including Yemen and Switzerland, did not single out any state.The United States is the biggest armed drone user in conflicts, including those in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia.

“The purpose of this resolution is not to shame or name anyone, as we are against this approach,” Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the UN Ambassador Zamir Akram told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). “It is about supporting a principle.”

The United States prizes drones for their accuracy against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. Pakistan says they kill civilians and infringe its sovereignty.“The United States is committed to ensuring that our actions, including those involving remotely piloted aircraft, are undertaken in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law and with the greatest possible transparency, consistent with our national security needs,” Paula Schriefer, US deputy assistant secretary of state, told the talks.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 27 states in favour to six against, with 14 abstentions at the 47-member Geneva forum. The United States, Britain and France voted against.The resolution urges all states to ensure that any measures employed to counter terrorism, including armed drones, comply with their obligations under international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of precaution distinction and proportionality.

The text voiced concern at civilian casualties resulting from the use of remotely-piloted aircraft or armed drones, as highlighted by the UN special investigator on

counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson in a recent report.It called on UN human rightsexpert discussions on armed drones and report back in September.

The United States, Britain and France said it was not appropriate for the forum to put weapons systems on its agenda. The Obama administration preferred to discuss drones under an initiative of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which it hoped would provide a “non-politicised forum” where military experts can discuss law of war issues, Schriefer said.

Akram, speaking before the vote, said opposition “can only lead to the conclusion that these States are guilty of violating applicable international law and demonstrate that they are afraid of being exposed in the expert panel”.

A separate UN human rights watchdog called on the Obama administration on Thursday to limit its use of drones and to curb US surveillance activities.The heavy mandate in favour of the resolution came about despite stiff opposition and intensive lobbying against the resolution by the US, the UK and France. As a result several European Union countries which are currently members of the Council were forced to change their votes. However, they refused to vote against the resolution and abstained. The only exception was Ireland which took a principled stance in support of the resolution.

According to the Pakistan’s Mission in Geneva, the adoption of the resolution by heavy majority underscored the success of Pakistan’s diplomacy in garnering international support for its principled position on the use of armed drones in violation of international law. This would further strengthen the country s efforts to address the issue of drones, it added.