UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] declared on Friday that US drone strikes in Pakistan raise grave legal concerns under international law. Pillay expressed particular concern that the drone strikes do not comport with the international law principles [BBC report] of proportionality and distinction. Pillay also called for an investigation [AFP report] into civilian deaths caused by drone strikes, saying that such deaths are a violation of human rights. The US has attempted to justify its drone strike policy on the grounds that the strikes are necessary in order for the US to be able to defend itself.
The legality of drone strikes has been a controversial issue in recent months. In October, JURIST contributing editor Jeffrey Addicott asserted [JURIST op-ed] that the CIA drone strike in September [JURIST report] that killed senior al Qaeda leader and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] was legal under the law of war. Prior to the drone strike that killed al-Awlaki, the Obama administration issued a memorandum [JURIST report] justifying the legality of such an action. In August, JURIST guest columnist Laurie Blank argued [JURIST op-ed] that the US government's claim that drone strikes in Pakistan have caused zero civilian casualties belied serious concerns about American interpretation and adherence to the laws of war.