Saturday, June 23, 2012

War crimes warning on American air strikes

GENEVA: The United States' use of drone strikes to carry out targeted killings presents a challenge to the system of international law that has endured since World War II, a United Nations investigator has said.

The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, fears the CIA-run programs in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere will encourage other states to flout long-established international human rights law.

In his strongest critique so far of drone strikes, Mr Heyns suggested some attacks may constitute war crimes.

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Addressing the conference, which was organised by the American Civil Liberties Union, a second UN rapporteur, Ben Emmerson, QC, who monitors counterterrorism, announced he would be prioritising inquiries into drone strikes. The London barrister said the issue was moving rapidly up the international agenda after China and Russia this week jointly issued a statement at the UN Human Rights Council, backed by other countries, condemning drone attacks.

If the US or any states responsible for attacks outside recognised war zones did not establish independent investigations into each killing, Mr Emmerson emphasised, then ''the UN itself should consider establishing an investigatory body''.

Addressing the same meeting, Pakistan's UN ambassador in Geneva, Zamir Akram, called for international legal action to halt the ''totally counterproductive'' US drone strikes in his country.

Mr Heyns, a South African law professor, said: ''Are we to accept major changes to the international legal system which has been in existence since World War II and survived nuclear threats?'' More