Drone use without due legal process “deeply troubling,” says UN human rights chief

December 10, 2013

Image of drones

In a statement to mark Human Rights Day, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that “armed drones are…being deployed, without due legal process, for the remote targeting of individuals,” and has called on states to ensure that existing international law is applied.

Navi Pillay also highlights the “deeply troubling ethical and legal questions” posed by the deployment of drones, while stressing that existing international human rights law and international laws of armed conflict remain applicable, despite major technological changes.

Ms Pillay’s comments come as the UK’s Court of Appeal considers a case brought by a Pakistani man who lost his father, a local tribal elder, in a March 2011 strike which hit a peaceful meeting convened to discuss a chromite mining dispute in North Waziristan.  Noor Khan (28) is asking the British Foreign Secretary to clarify the Government’s position on sharing intelligence for use in CIA strikes, and challenging the lawfulness of such activities.  Mr Khan is being supported by legal charity Reprieve and represented by lawyers Leigh Day.

The UN High Commissioner’s statement also follows the latest US strike to hit Yemen, yesterday, which reportedly killed three people travelling in a car, and took place as US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held talks in Pakistan on the issue of the covert drone programme being carried out there.

Commenting, Reprieve Legal Director, Kat Craig said: “The High Commissioner is right – the US’ secret drone programme, supported by its allies in the UK intelligence agencies, is flaunting domestic and international law.  It is high time this secretive campaign, which has killed hundreds of civilians and traumatised many more, was brought out of the shadows.  Recent revelations have demonstrated just how closely integrated US and UK intelligence agencies are – it is scandalous that the British Government is trying to keep its involvement in the drone programme under wraps by fighting Mr Khan in the courts.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. The relevant extract from Ms Pillay’s statement is copied below – the text can be found in full here: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/Media.aspx

“[W]e have … seen how new technologies are facilitating the violation of human rights, with chilling 21st Century efficiency. In breach of international law, mass electronic surveillance and data collection are threatening both individual rights, and the free functioning of a vibrant civil society…[A]rmed drones are…being deployed, without due legal process, for the remote targeting of individuals. So-called “Killer robots” – autonomous weapons systems that can select and hit a target without human intervention – are no longer science fiction, but a reality. Their likely future deployment poses deeply troubling ethical and legal questions.  Continued vigilance is needed to ensure that new technologies advance rather than destroy human rights. No matter the scale of these changes, existing international human rights law and international humanitarian law governing the conduct of armed conflict remain applicable. States must ensure that they are applied.”