High Commissioner cites lack of proportionality in U.S. drone strikes on Pakistan

In her opening statement to the Human Rights Council’s 20th Special Session yesterday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay criticized the use of unmanned aerial drones by the United States, noting considerable doubt that victims of the strikes “are combatants or directly participating in hostilities.”

Describing her recent visit to Pakistan, which has been bombed hundreds of times by U.S. drones since 2004, Pillay noted that the attacks “raise questions about compliance with distinction and proportionality.”

“I also expressed serious concern over the continuing use of armed drones for targeted attacks,” she said,

in particular because it is unclear that all persons targeted are combatants or directly participating in hostilities. The Secretary-General has expressed concern about the lack of transparency on the circumstances in which drones are used, noting that these attacks raise questions about compliance with distinction and proportionality. I remind States of their international obligation to take all necessary precautions to ensure that attacks comply with international law. I urge them to conduct investigations that are transparent, credible and independent, and provide victims with effective remedies.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), which has been closely monitoring the U.S. drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, U.S. drones have attacked Pakistani territory 332 times over the past eight years. The sorties drastically increased under the presidency of Barack Obama, with 280 attacks launched since January 2009.

The total number of casualties range from 2,486 to 3,188, with civilians accounting for 482 to 832 of those deaths. The total number of children reported killed is 175 and injuries range from 1,192 to 1,308. The BIJ notes that “more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.”

The New York Times reported last month that Obama has now redefined concepts of “civilians” and “militants” in order to minimize unfavorable news about innocent victims of the drone strikes.

“Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in,” reported the Times. “It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

In response to the New York Times revelations, the U.S. Justice Department has launched investigations of possible leakers in the administration may have provided this information to the press, in order to ensure that these sorts of secrets never see the light of day.

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