Letter to the Members of the HRC
March 27, 2014

Your Excellency,

We write to urge you to vote in favor of the Human Rights Council Resolution on ensuring use of remotely piloted aircraft or armed drones in counter-terrorism and military operations in accordance with international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law, A/HRC/25/L.32.

The resolution would send an important signal that states should be as transparent as possible in their lethal counterterrorism actions. Accordingly, the draft resolution calls upon states to “ensure transparency” on armed drone operations, and to carry out “prompt, independent and impartial investigations whenever there are indications of a violation to international law caused by their use.”

While currently only the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel use armed drones in operations against alleged terrorists, with the United States carrying out the vast majority of these attacks, other states and non-state actors may acquire them in the near future. Since 2009, the United States has carried out at least 400 drone strikes, reportedly killing upwards of 2,600 people, according to independent research groups.

Human Rights Watch has serious concerns that some if not many US drone attacks may violate international law. In examinations of six US targeted killing operations by drones since 2011 in Yemen that had killed and wounded civilians, Human Rights Watch found a clear violation of international humanitarian law in one attack and possible violations in the remainder. Research by Human Rights Watch and others on these operations is hampered by the unwillingness of the US to provide information on these attacks or conduct transparent investigations when there are credible allegations of violations of international law.

This resolution has implications that extend beyond the United States, however. The misuse of drones by any nation sets a dangerous precedent for other governments that may seek to unlawfully use these weapons systems against their enemies.

Since October 2013, both the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,have presented reports expressing grave concerns about potentially unlawful targeted killings and calling for greater transparency on these strikes.The UN Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights also have emphasized the need to ensure these strikes comply with international law.

 Increasing numbers of countries around the globe have expressed interest in acquiring armed drones. By voting in favor of this resolution, you will help ensure that states meet their international legal obligations to provide access to remedy for victims of unlawful drone strikes. You also will help ensure that states uphold their commitment to the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy approved by the UN General Assembly in 2006, which recognizes that effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are “complementary and mutually reinforcing aims.”

 Yours Sincerely.