23 June 2011
GENEVA - International lawyers have identified an
existing but previously unacknowledged requirement in law for those who use or
authorise the use of drone strikes to record and announce who has been killed
and injured in each attack.
A new report, 'Drone Attacks, International Law, and the Recording of Civilian Casualties of Armed Conflict', is published on 23 June 2011 by London-based think tank Oxford Research Group (ORG).
Speaking at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Dr Susan Breau, the report's lead author and Professor of International Law at Flinders University, said:
"It is high time to implement a global casualty recording mechanism which includes civilians so that finally every casualty of every conflict is identified. The law requires it, and drones provide no exemption from that requirement."
THE REPORT'S KEY FINDINGS
The report also provides a set of specific recommendations addressing the current situation in Pakistan and Yemen, where the issue of drone strikes by the United States and the recording of their casualties is of real and practical urgency. According to the report, while legal duties fall upon all the parties mentioned, it is the United States (as the launcher and controller of drones) which has least justification to shirk its responsibilities.
The implications of these findings go well beyond the particularities of these weapons, these countries, and these specific uses. The legal obligations enshrined as they are in international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and domestic law, are binding on all parties at all times in relation to any form of violent killing or injury by any party.
Elaborating on the report's implications, Dr Breau said:
"States, individually and collectively, need to plan how to work towards conformance with these substantial bodies of law. Members of civil society, particularly those that seek the welfare of the victims of conflict, have a new opportunity to press states towards fulfilling their obligations under law.
"This is not asking for the impossible. The killing of Osama Bin Laden suggests the lengths to which states will go to confirm their targets when they believe this to be in their own interest. Had the political stakes in avoiding mistaken or disputed identity not been so high, Bin Laden (and whoever else was in his home) would almost certainly have been typical candidates for a drone attack."
Commenting on the report, Paul Rogers, ORG's Consultant on Global Security and Professor at Bradford University Peace Studies Department, said:
"Armed drones are fast becoming the weapons of choice by the United States and its allies in South Asia and the Middle East, yet their use raises major questions about legality which have been very largely ignored. A key and salutary finding of this report is that drone users cannot escape a legal responsibility to expose the human consequences of their attacks. This hugely important and detailed analysis addresses some of the most significant issues involved and deserves the widest coverage, not least in military, legal and political circles."
The legal imperative to record casualties was first analysed by Dr Susan Breau and Rachel Joyce in their 'Discussion Paper: The Legal Obligation to Record Civilian Casualties of Armed Conflict'.
About the Author
Dr Susan Breau is Legal Consultant to ORG's Recording Casualties in Armed Conflict Programme and Professor of International Law at Flinders University, Adelaide.
About Oxford Research Group
The Oxford Research Group (ORG) is a leading independent think-tank that has been influential for 30 years in pioneering the idea of sustainable approaches to security as an alternative to global conflict, through original research, wide-ranging dialogue, and practical policy recommendations. ORG is a registered charity, and is based in London. Our Recording the Casualties of Armed Conflict team is working to ensure that details of every casualty of every conflict are recorded. www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk
Oxford Research Group, Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4LT, firstname.lastname@example.org