LONDON - A United Nations envoy on counter-terrorism and human rights has launched a special investigation into the impact of drone warfare and targeted killings on civilians, an investigation that might recommend action regarding the US front-line weapon in its so-called war on terror.
The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay, and its use in theatres of conflict is a reality with which the world must contend, Ben Emmerson, a British lawyer and United Nations special rapporteur, told reporters in London on Thursday, January 24, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirements of international law.
Widely used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, drone attacks have been stirring concerns about the safety of civilians.
The UN envoy's investigation will focus on 25 case studies of attacks in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Somalia and Yemen.
Its main objective is to examine evidence that drone strikes can cause disproportionate civilian casualties, and come up with recommendations on the duty of states to investigate such allegations.
The huge expansion in the technology behind unmanned planes, and consequently their increasing use, required a new legal framework, Emmerson noted.
Emmerson said his investigation aims to secure "accountability and reparation where things can be shown to have gone badly wrong, with potentially grave consequences for civilians".
The inquiry will be coordinated through Emmerson's UN office in Geneva.
His team includes former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald QC, a former prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, and Dr Nat Cary, one of the UK's most experienced pathologists who specializes in the interpretation of injuries caused by explosions.
The inquiry is the result of a request by several nations, including Pakistan and two permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Reporting the findings to the UN general assembly in New York this autumn, Emmerson said that further actions would depend on the results of the investigation.
The 25 case studies will be examined to see if there was "a plausible allegation of unlawful killing that should trigger the international law obligations to investigate", Emmerson said.
He said he would make recommendations for further UN action "if that proves to be justified by the findings".
Emmerson added that he was "optimistic" of receiving cooperation from Pakistan, Yemen, the United States and Britain.
Though many US officials justify drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia as acceptable as part of the global war on terrorism, others in the Washington administration have acknowledged a need to demonstrate legal justification for targeted killings to the international community.
"One of the fundamental questions is whether aerial targeting using drones is an appropriate method of conflict â¦ where the individuals are embedded in a local community, Emmerson told the Guardian on Friday, January 25.
"One of the questions we will be looking at is whether, given the local demography, aerial attacks carry too high a risk of a disproportionate number of civilian casualties."
"The explosion of drone technology [raises the question whether] the military dependence on UAVs carries an unacceptably high risk of civilian casualties."
More than 3,000 people, including women and children, have been killed in more than 300 drone attacks in North and South Waziristan since 2004.
According to New American Foundation, and Human Rights Watch, nearly 50 percent of the drone targets were innocents.
The American public anger against drone attacks has been rising recently.
In recent weeks, more than 50,000 Americans have signed a petition to Ban Weaponized Drones from the World.
The petition says that weaponized drones are no more acceptable than land mines, cluster bombs or chemical weapons.