U.S. Targeted Killing Policy Criticized by ACLU, UN Experts at Human Rights Council

The United States government’s program of targeted killings has come under close scrutiny in recent days, during the United Nations Human Rights Council* twentieth regular session (ongoing through July 6).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Human Rights Program (HRP) staff attended the session to raise concerns about human rights in the United States, and specifically the targeted killing policy. [ACLU] HRP Director Jamil Dakwar addressed the Human Rights Council, stating his appreciation for the UN Secretary General and High Commissioner for Human Rights‘ calls for improved transparency and accountability in the use of the unmanned drones that carry out such killings (see the video clip of Mr. Dakwar’s remarks here).

In an event organized in Geneva by the ACLU and other non-governmental organizations, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, warned that the targeted killings contravene international law and may constitute war crimes in certain circumstances. [Guardian]

In his remarks to the Human Rights Council, Mr. Heyns again focused on the use of drones. The Council’s press release summarizing its interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur indicates:

Concerning the report on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, delegations asked whether any research had been planned on the impact of the use of drones. With regards to extrajudicial executions, a speaker asked whether any research had been planned on the impact of the use of drones and other forms and means of selective assassinations. One speaker said that the challenge was in ensuring that international standards for protection were fully implemented and reflected in national framework.

The press release also notes the ACLU’s call for the U.S. government to “disclose their definition of civilians, the number of civilians killed, and compensate the victims” of the targeted killing program.

Last month, Human Rights First staff members Daphne Eviatar and Gabor Rona published an article entitled Kill the Kill List in Foreign Policy magazine, in which they asserted – based on publicly-available information – that the targeted killing policy likely violates international law and is premised on “gross misreading” of the international laws of war.

In addition to their efforts to raise awareness at the international level, the ACLU and other groups are seeking greater access to information on the targeted killings program within the U.S. judicial system. [CNN] The ACLU’s lawsuit concerning its Freedom of Information Act request for the government memo detailing the parameters and criteria of the policy is pending in federal district court. [ACLU] Late last night, the Obama administration filed a brief asserting that information about the program cannot be divulged publicly for national security reasons. The U.S. Congress has similarly sought information from the administration on the details of the policy. [LA Times]

*The UN Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body which promotes and evaluates respect for human rights in all 194 UN Member States, including through its special procedures and Universal Periodic Review. During its regular sessions, the Council members, inter alia, discuss topics of importance with input from civil society and special procedure mandate holders.

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