Thursday

21st Feb 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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

EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland

Viktor Orban of Hungary and Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski seem to share the idea that the rights of some may come at the expense of the rights of others, and public institutions should serve the majority, and not all citizens.

Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?

There can be no more excuses for business. They will be held for responsible for their failure to take action to prevent the risk of human and labour rights through their supply chains.

News in Brief

  1. Tusk to back pro-EU candidates in Polish EP vote
  2. Germany rejects UK appeal on Saudi arms sales
  3. French senators decry 'dysfunction' on Macron security aide affair
  4. France to ban far-right groups over antisemitism
  5. Swedish climate activist to face Juncker in Brussels
  6. Swedish MEP calls for discussion on Orban in EPP
  7. EU countries back copyright reform
  8. Germany keeps EU commission in dark on Dieselgate

What does Poland want from the EU?

We propose several changes to the EU, derived from the political philosophy behind the current Polish government, and what Poles expect from the EU - this could be seen as a manifesto Poland wants the next European Commission to tackle.

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. Microsoft warns EU on election hack threat
  2. Brexit talks to continue after May-Juncker meeting
  3. Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all
  4. EU commission appeals Dieselgate ruling
  5. 'No burning crisis' on migrant arrivals, EU agency says
  6. 'No evidence' ECB bond-buying helped euro economy
  7. Juncker: Orban should leave Europe's centre-right
  8. College of Europe alumni ask rector to cut Saudi ties

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us