Two UN rights experts issued [press release] separate reports to the UN General Assembly [official website] Thursday calling upon states to increase transparency in the use of drones and to investigate allegations of civilian deaths in drone strikes. According to the UN press release, the report [text, PDF] by UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson [official website] focuses on the use of combat drones in counter-terrorism operations and its impact on civilian populations. The report [text, PDF] from UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Christof Heyns [official website] analyzes the use of lethal force through armed drones from the perspective of the UN protected right to life [UDHR text] and international norms. Emmerson urged "States to declassify, to the maximum extent possible, information relevant to their lethal extra-territorial counter-terrorism operations and to release its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of drones." Similarly Heyns called for States to "publicly disclose the legal basis for the use of drones, operational responsibility, criteria for targeting, impact (including civilian casualties), and information about alleged violations, investigations and prosecutions." Both experts warned that drone strikes, while legal, are easily abused and can lead to unlawful loss of life.
The growing use of unmanned aerial surveillance and combat capable aircraft, otherwise known as drones, has drawn the attention of the world and become a controversial topic [JURIST backgrounder]. Emmerson's report, made public by the UN last week, indicates [JURIST report] that the US is under-reporting the number of civilian deaths resulting from anti-terrorism drone strikes. In his investigation Emmerson discovered 33 drone attacks that have resulted in approximately 450 civilian deaths in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. This report was made available to the public just several days after police in Afghanistan reported [JURIST, report] the death of five civilians from a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) [official website] counter-terrorism drone strike headed by the US. In August UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] insisted [JURIST report] that US drone strikes must operate within international law.