NEW YORK: The UN General Assembly on Wednesday adopted a resolution calling on the states using drone strikes as a counter-terrorism measure to comply with the international law, as the 193-member body acted on a range of issues relating mainly to human rights.
The unanimous call for regulating the use of remotely piloted aircraft against suspected terrorists was contained in a comprehensive 28-paragraph resolution, entitled “Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism”. The portion about drone strikes was included as a result of intensive efforts by the Pakistani delegation. It is the first that the General Assembly has spoken out on the use of armed drones – a key but controversial component of the US war against terrorism, including against targets in Pakistan.
In this regard, the Assembly underscored the “urgent and imperative” need for an agreement among member states on legal questions about drone operations. The resolution urges states “to ensure that any measures taken or means employed to counter terrorism, including the use of remotely piloted aircraft, comply with their obligations under international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality”.
The text also calls for taking into account “relevant United Nations resolutions and decisions on human rights, and encourages them to give due consideration to the recommendations of the special procedures and mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and to the relevant comments and views of United Nations human rights treaty bodies”. The resolution also takes note of the report of the Special Rapporteur Ben Emersson “which refers, inter alia, to the use of remotely piloted aircraft, and notes the recommendations, including the urgent and imperative need to seek agreement among member states on legal questions pertaining to remotely piloted aircraft operations”.
The text also encouraged “states while countering terrorism to undertake prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiries whenever there are plausible indications of possible breaches to their obligations under international human rights law, with a view to ensuring accountability”.
The General Assembly also stamped its approval on a Pakistan-sponsored resolution reaffirming that the universal realisation of the right of peoples to self-determination was a fundamental condition for the effective guarantee and observance of human rights. The resolution, co-sponsored by a record number of 81 countries, was adopted by consensus. The text was recommended by the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.
Diplomatic observers say the resolution, which Pakistan has been tabling since 1981, serves to focus the world’s attention on the struggle by peoples for their inalienable right to self-determination, including those in Kashmir and Palestine. The resolution, which also declared the 193-member body’s firm opposition to acts of foreign military intervention, aggression and occupation, since these have resulted in the suppression of the right of peoples to self-determination and other human rights in certain parts of the world. It also called on those states responsible to cease immediately their military intervention in and occupation of foreign countries and territories, as well as all acts of repression, discrimination, exploitation and maltreatment.
According to website livingunderdrones.org, if there is an armed conflict, the legality of any drone strike must then be evaluated in accordance with the international humanitarian law, including particularly the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality, humanity, and military necessity. Distinction is particularly challenging in FATA, because fighters regularly intermingle with civilians, engage in routine activities and do not wear uniforms. Nonetheless, militaries engaged in an armed conflict must always attempt to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate targets for an attack.
A research conducted by the website raises serious concerns about the compliance of particular strikes, and targeted killing trends and practices, with international humanitarian law. These legal concerns include questions regarding: individual strikes, including those on mosques, funerals, schools, or meetings for elders to gather and resolve community disputes, where large numbers of civilians are present. Even when such strikes are aimed at one or more individuals who may be deemed legitimate military targets, the presence of large numbers of civilians in such spaces may make the strike disproportionate. Strikes that result in large numbers of civilian deaths also raise questions about whether adequate precautions in attack were taken.
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