U.N. official weighs in on drone strikes

UNITED NATIONS, June 2 (UPI) -- A U.N. human rights official Wednesday questioned the legality of the use of drones to conduct airstrikes, the U.S. weapon of choice in Pakistan.

Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said employing unmanned aircraft to attack enemy positions by remote control could undermine rules intended to prevent free-lance executions and guaranteeing people the right to life.


Alston said in a report issued by the United Nations in New York that legal justifications for such targeted killings are often based on "excessively broad circumstances" with a lack of accountability to ensure their legality.

"In terms of the first problem, there are indeed circumstances in which targeted killings may be legal," Alston said. "They are permitted in armed conflict situations when used against combatants or fighters, or civilians who directly engage in combat-like activities.

"But they are increasingly being used far from any battle zone. The United States, in particular, has put forward a novel theory that there is a 'law of 9/11' that enables it to legally use force in the territory of other states as part of its inherent right to self-defense on the basis that it is in an armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban and 'associated forces', although the latter group is fluid and undefined."


Alston called it an "expansive and open-ended interpretation" that "goes a long way towards destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the U.N. Charter." He said if other nations used the same rationale, "it would cause chaos."

Alston submitted his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

He said he did not question the seriousness of the challenges posed by terrorism.

"But the fact that such enemies do not play by the rules does not mean that a government can cast those rules aside or unilaterally re-interpret them," he said.

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