U.N. drone strike inquiry will seek consensus on legality, safeguards

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A United Nations inquiry into the use of drones for targeted killing launched Jan. 24 in an attempt to reach an international consensus about its legality.

Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, is leading the inquiry, which will also try to devise standards and safeguards for drone strikes, Emmerson said in a statement (.pdf).

Emmerson's team plans to look into evidence that drone strikes have caused disproportionate civilian casualties, and recommend to states that carry out the strikes that they conduct independent investigations into their consequences.

The U.N.'s investigators expect to look into 25 case studies from Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.

"This is not of course a substitute for effective official independent investigations by the States concerned," Emmerson said, but he added that the findings may prompt responses from those states.

By the end of May, the inquiry aims to have gathered evidence from lawyers, journalists and nongovernmental organizations. This will include country visits to Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, Emmerson says. By the end of July, Emmerson said he expects to have consulted states involved in the drone strikes about the cases the inquiry will have looked at.

The final report is due to be presented at the U.N. General Assembly in October.

Another front in the drone strike debate opened last week when an article from The Atlantic asserted that Pakistanis may not broadly oppose drone strikes.

Its authors, professors from three universities, said that if the Obama administration were more open about the program, it could try to sway public opinion in Pakistan, where many people apparently know little or nothing about the strikes.

The Atlantic later published a rebuttal that called the professors' claims "interventionist hubris and naivete."

For more:
- download the statement from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (.pdf)

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