Thursday

20th Jul 2017

Opinion

EU should press Obama on drone secrecy

  • The US has carried out at least 400 drone strikes and other targeted killings since Obama took office (Photo: Steve Crane)

Trade and the crisis in Ukraine are likely to dominate the agenda during US President Barack Obama’s first official visit to Brussels on March 26.

But the European Union and Nato leaders also should use the summit to press Obama on another critical issue: ensuring that US operations against terrorist suspects, most often carried out with remotely piloted aircraft known as drones, comply with international law.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

A strong European stance on targeted killings is the clear wish of the European Parliament, which in February passed a resolution calling on the EU to “promote greater transparency and accountability” from countries that use armed drones, and to “ensure” that victims of unlawful drone strikes have effective access to remedies.

Targeted killings are also of concern to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Later this week (March 27-28) the council is expected to approve its own resolution pressing states to ensure transparency on drone attacks and to carry out prompt and impartial investigations when strikes may have gone wrong.

The US, disappointingly, opposes the Human Rights Council resolution, making it all the more important that the EU press the issue directly with Obama.

Two UN special rapporteurs also have recently issued separate reports expressing concerns about potentially unlawful targeted killings and calling for greater transparency.

Taking a strong rights-respecting stance on drones is critical not only for the US but also for EU member states. Currently the UK is the only EU member that deploys armed drones - in Afghanistan. But a “drones club” composed of France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain is developing an armed drone.

The US has carried out at least 400 drone strikes and other targeted killings since Obama took office in 2009, reportedly killing upwards of 2,600 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to independent research groups. Obama disputes claims of significant civilian casualties in these strikes.

But his administration won’t confirm any casualty figures, much less individual strikes or the total number of its targeted killing operations.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has serious concerns that at least some of these attacks violate international law and Obama’s policies on targeted attacks announced last May, including that the US strikes only when it has “near-certainty” that no civilians will be harmed.

In examinations of seven US targeted killing operations by drones and other weapons systems since 2009 in Yemen, we found clear violations of the laws of war in two attacks that indiscriminately killed civilians.

One unlawful attack killed 14 alleged militants, but also 42 sleeping Bedouins, two-thirds of them women and children. The other killed 12 civilians - 8 farmers, a mother and 3 children - on a sports utility vehicle coming home from market.

HRW found possible laws-of-war violations in the other five cases, including a strike on cars in a wedding procession that killed 12 men, wounded 15 others, and slightly injured the bride.

HRW also questions the US assertion that it is in a global war with Al-Qaeda and similar groups and that therefore the laws of armed conflict apply to all of its targeted killings.

Outside of armed conflict, where criminal justice rules govern, states can only use lethal force to prevent an imminent threat to life. The US has not made a compelling case that its attacks are all governed by the laws of war or overcome the higher threshold for the use of lethal force outside armed conflict.

EU states often deplore legally questionable actions by foreign governments. Yet they have hesitated to do the same when it comes to their close ally, the United States.

EU countries will not undertake criticism of their powerful friend lightly. But the misuse of drones has implications that extend beyond the actions of the United States - and that over time will circle the globe.

The US unwillingness to acknowledge possibly unlawful aspects of its targeted killings program or conduct the necessary investigations into specific attacks sets a dangerous precedent for other governments that may seek to use armed drones against their enemies - whether those strikes are launched from Russia, China or even somewhere in Europe.

The writer is the senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at HRW and the author of two recent reports on US targeted killings in Yemen

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  2. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  3. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  4. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  5. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  6. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  7. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary
  8. Commission: clean up diesel cars, or EU agency inevitable