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Ben Emmerson

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


Cc: Christof Heyns

Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


Dear Special Rapporteur

Inquiry into human rights and civilian impact of drone strikes

This letter is to inform you of recent allegations made in the Australian media concerning Australia’s direct involvement in the United States drones program in Asia and the Middle East and to request that these allegations form part of your inquiry into drone strikes.

On 21 July 2013 a major Australian newspaper, The Age, undertook investigations and reported allegations made by former personnel at Pine Gap, a joint Australian-American base located in the Northern Territory, Australia. The report states that the signals intelligence base has located and tracked al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders and has passed on location data to the US drone strike program and other military operations. The Australian Defence Minister has told Australian Parliament that the Pine Gap base operates with the ‘full knowledge and concurrence’ of the Australian government. We attach a copy of the media report.

If true, these allegations raise serious concerns about the complicity of Australian officials in civilian deaths caused by the US drone strikes.  In particular, we are concerned that Australian officials may have facilitated targeted killing in violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

We note that you are currently inquiring into the civilian and human rights impact of the use of drones.  We consider that the allegations raised against the Australian Government in this report are relevant to your current inquiry. In particular, we believe the following issues are relevant:

  • The extent to which Pine Gap is used to track targets before a drone strike and in post-strike assessments
  • The extent to which intelligence from Pine Gap was used in the 25 case studies which are the subject of your inquiry
  • The nature of the cooperation between Australian and US officials within the base and the level of involvement of Australian officials in obtaining and providing locational data used in targeting
  • The basis on which Australia claims its involvement through the Pine Gap base is lawful under both domestic and international law
  • The policy that applies to Australian officials at Pine Gap setting out the circumstances in which they transfer data to the US drone program

We also note that in 2008 Australia issued a standing invitation to receive visits from any United Nations special procedures mandate holders and hope that you will take advantage of that invitation to visit Australia in the course of your inquiry.

We thank you for your work on this inquiry and we would be happy to provide your mandate with further assistance to the extent that it would be useful.

Yours sincerely


Emily Howie 

Director of Advocacy and Research 

Human Rights Law Centre 


Elaine Pearson

Australia Director 

Human Rights Watch 


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