GENEVA – UN rights experts on Wednesday hailed a US move to review counter-terrorism operations after a botched drone attack in Pakistan killed two foreign hostages, but called for more transparency and accountability.
US President Barack Obama, who has relied heavily on drone raids to hunt down Islamist extremists from Pakistan’s tribal areas to Somalia and Yemen, on Thursday took the rap for a January drone strike on an Al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan in which an American and an Italian died. Lifting the lid on a classified operation, Obama expressed his ‘deepest apologies’ to the families of 73-year-old economic advisor Warren Weinstein and 39-year-old aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto.
‘We welcome president Obama’s apology to the families.
All innocent victims of drone attacks deserve such an apology, regardless of their nationality,’ the UN experts said in a joint statement. Ben Emmerson, the UN’s top rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, said Washington needed to ‘declassify, to the maximum extent possible, information relevant to its lethal extraterritorial counter-terrorism operations’.
These included civilian casualty figures and information ‘on the evaluation methodology used’, he said. ‘It is critical that whenever civilian casualties are suspected, there is a proper procedure in place to ascertain the facts, and that the facts are then made public with a view to securing accountability and reparations for the victims,’ the experts said. Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, said all investigations ‘must be prompt, impartial, independent and exhaustive’.
And the legality of any government action should be subject to an independent and effective judicial review both at the domestic and international level, the experts said. ‘States using drones have an obligation to respect international standards and prevent violations,’ said Christof Heyns, an expert on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.