GENEVA: Governments must come clean on their methods for killing suspected terrorists and insurgents, especially when using unmanned drones, because they may be committing war crimes, a UN human rights expert said Wednesday.
Philip Alston, the independent UN investigator on extrajudicial killings, called on countries to lay out the rules and safeguards they use when carrying out so-called targeted killings, publish figures on civilian casualties and prove they have attempted to capture or incapacitate suspects without killing them.
His 29-page report to the UN Human Rights Council will put unwanted scrutiny on intelligence operations of the United States, Israel and Russia, who Alston says are all credibly reported to have used drones to kill alleged terrorists and insurgents.
Alston, a New York University law professor, said the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by intelligence agencies such as the CIA to carry out targeted killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere is particularly fraught because of the secrecy surrounding such operations.
Although not illegal as such, CIA drone strikes are more likely to breach the rules of war than similar operations carried out by armed forces, who are more familiar with international law and can resort to non-lethal means because they have troops on the ground, Alston said.
''Unlike a state's armed forces, its intelligence agents do not generally operate within a framework which places appropriate emphasis upon ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law, rendering violations more likely and causing a higher risk of prosecution both for war crimes and for violations of the laws of the state in which any killing occurs,'' he wrote.
The CIA, which refuses to discuss specific activities, claims all of its operations are lawful and subject to government oversight.
A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of intelligence matters, said lethal drones were an effective and legal means to target members of al-Qaida and the Taliban in far-flung areas where the United States or its allies have no military presence.
The US official cited Pakistan, which officially condemns drone strikes on its territory but is widely believed to share intelligence with Washington for at least some of the attacks, especially those that target Pakistani Taliban militants blamed for numerous attacks in the country.
There was no evidence to prove large numbers of innocent lives have been lost due to drone strikes, the US official said.
This view has been challenged by human rights groups and independent observers, who say remotely operated drones risk ingraining a video game mentality about war and can never be as accurate as eyewitness confirmation of targets from the ground.
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