Usage of Drones in US

Can the U.S. utilize drones in targeted killing and still remain in compliance with International humanitarian law? A study by the US university Stanford, New York titled “Living under Drones” concludes that between 2004 and 2012 alone in Pakistan, between 2500 and 3000 people were killed by drone strikes, including around 470 to 880 civilians, almost 200 children. The researchers also note in their findings that a maximum of two percent of those killed could be described as “high-level targets”. Back in summer of 2001, the US government described the use of armed drones to kill individuals as illegitimate.

After September 11, 2001, this attitude changed. Under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, targeted killings by drone strikes are now part of US warfare. The Peshawar High Court condemned US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as a war crime in May, 2013. The court had to assess a case in which 44 tribal elders were killed by a drone operation. They were allegedly held by the US soldiers as extremists. The court ruled in its ruling that the attacks violated Pakistan’s sovereignty and international law. It called on the US to stop the attacks on Pakistan. In addition, the court appealed to its own government to go to the UN Security Council for drone strikes and demand an international war crimes tribunal.

In 2012, UNO rapporteur Heyns called on the US to explain why they are resorting to targeted killings instead of capturing terrorist suspects. He condemned the attacks that claimed many civilian casualties. Heyns to plea: “If the over 70 countries that have drones, would use this weapon, the whole world would be a battlefield”. In his report, he called on the US to clarify procedures for drone missions to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law. They would also need to identify their strategies for avoiding civilian casualties and carry out independent public investigations. Ben Emmerson, UN rapporteur in the fight against terrorism, also calls for compelling legal and operational structures to respect international law on drone strikes. He too criticizes the many attacks on civilians.

According to Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, civilians should not be the target of attacks. The legality of a drone strike in another country is governed by the rules of the ius ad bellum (right to war), as it results from the UN Charter, and the ius in bello (right in war or international humanitarian law). The leaders are required to take precautionary measures and examine the nature of the target. The war method must be used, which requires no or least civilian casualties as collateral damage. Targeted killings of soldiers are generally allowed in an armed conflict. Civilians lose their legal protection against attacks when they participate directly in hostilities. Can the U.S. utilize drones in targeted killing and still remain in compliance with US Law? So soldiers are authorized to kill other soldiers because they too can be killed.

The social ostracism of killing is legitimized by this strict reciprocity. But whoever steers an armed drone is no longer part of the fighting. He can kill but not be killed himself. This has consequences for the justification of violence. Violations of international humanitarian law require a legal investigation. In the case of killing outside armed conflict, according to international human rights treaties, every death must be investigated. Andrea Bianchi, Director of the Department of International Law at the Geneva Institute for International Studies (IUHEID), points to another problem facing US drone missions: they are partially executed by the CIA – in Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, for example. The legal question arises whether the CIA can be considered a war party. Bianchi: “It is doubtful whether the CIA will comply with international humanitarian law.”

The US no longer distinguishes whether or not they are in conflict with a country in an armed conflict. It is a global war on terrorism, which at best made it necessary to take action in every country in the world. The US believes that anyone fighting terrorist activity against the United States should be fought. Under Obama, Signature Strikes even kill people whose identity is unknown but whose behavior is considered suspicious. If not, how does the U.S. step back from the use of this developed technology? In some cases target killing with drones is in violation with International Humanitarian Law but because the US and its allies has to fight a “new enemy” they also must adapt the “laws of the 20th century” for dealing with strikes to the conditions of the 21st century.

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