A recent report by the law schools of Stanford University and New York University concludes that, in reality, civilian casualties in Pakistan may have accounted for up to 75 percent of all UAV victims between 2008 and last year. Others estimate a lower, but still alarming, rate of 30 percent. The legal obligation of proportionality is clearly being violated.
Accountability is also being flouted. Drone operations are carried out by the CIA, an organization whose activities are shrouded in secrecy. In addition, unlike military personnel, CIA agents enjoy extensive immunity, which undermines international legal standards.
Without increased transparency, to declare the US’ drone campaign legal is impossible, both in the context of war and outside of armed conflict. As long as the US keeps the rest of the world in the dark, illegal acts — including possible war crimes — may be committed with impunity.
Just as citizens worldwide are demanding increased economic and financial accountability, more pressure must be placed on the US to either prove that its drone activities are necessary and legal, or stop them immediately. Victims of UAV attacks, their families and civil society groups have begun to speak out against the US’ questionable drone campaign and to pursue legal action. Others should feel encouraged to follow suit.
In the meantime, every drone strike will not only undermine human rights and international humanitarian law, but will also further widen a legal loophole that other governments and armed groups will not hesitate to exploit. The US drone program does not make the world a safer place —it creates an environment in which unlawful killings can happen virtually anywhere, at any time, violating the fundamental human right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s life.
Barbara Lochbihler is chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.
Copyright: Project Syndicate