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UN Launches Investigation into Drone Strikes, Civilian Deaths

By Jack Phillips

Michael Martinez inspects an MQ-9 Reaper during a pre-flight check August 8, 2007 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Reaper was the Air Force's first 'hunter-killer' unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield as well as provide intelligence and surveillance.

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The United Nations has launched a probe into drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Between 20 and 30 strikes carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be examined to determine the extent of civilian casualties during those attacks, one of the investigators told The Guardian. It will also look at drone strikes in northern Africa as well as some in the Palestinian territories.

Specifically, the evaluation will look at “the civilian impact of the use of drones and other forms of targeted killing… [examining] the factual evidence concerning civilian casualties,” and the law that applies to such deaths. The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is carrying out the investigation.

The inquiry will later determine “the lawfulness and proportionality of such attacks” and submit their findings to the U.N. General Assembly later this year.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson told the Guardian he is looking into classifying certain drone strikes as war crimes. He is particularly focused on the so-called “double tap” strikes that have killed rescuers trying to aid the victims of a first strike.

“One of the fundamental questions is whether aerial targeting using drones is an appropriate method of conflict … where the individuals are embedded in a local community,” he told the publication.

Defenders of drone strikes have said that they mitigate the risk of civilian deaths and are necessary in the war on terrorism, but others have said that the attacks have done no such thing. Some have said that there should be more regulation regarding drones.

During an eight-year-span between June 2004 and September 2012, drone strikes have killed between 2,562 people and 3,325 people in Pakistan alone. Between 474 and 881 people were civilians, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Of the 362 strikes in Pakistan during the eight year span, most took place under the Obama administration, according to the Bureau.

Emmerson said, “The explosion of drone technology [raises the question whether] the military dependence on UAVs carries an unacceptably high risk of civilian casualties.”

A spokesman with the Foreign Office in Pakistan said that there should be an investigation into the nature of targeted strikes carried out by drones. He said that Pakistan regards the drone attacks to be in violation of the country’s sovereignty.

“We have been communicating this to the U.S. administration at every level,” he told the Express Tribune.
According to the BBC, Emmerson said in a conference on Thursday that he was not unfairly singling out the United States and Israel, saying that some 51 countries have the technology for UAVs

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