The United Nations will investigate the drone strikes of the United States and other forms of targeted killing programs to assess if the operations caused unacceptable civilian casualties.

The US drone strikes will be investigated by the United Nations, said UN Rapporteur, Ben Emmerson of the UN Human Rights Council, in a press conference in London, on Thursday.


Pakistan and two other countries that are permanent members of UN Security Council requested a special investigation on the targeted killing program of the United States. Pakistan officially expressed its opposition against drone strikes on its territory citing that it is a violation of its sovereignty. Pakistan also claimed that drone strikes have killed many civilians; however, the United Stated has rejected those allegations.

Emmerson explained that the main objective of the UN investigation is to look at evidences to determine if drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing caused unacceptable civilian casualties. He added that the UN will provide recommendations regarding the U.S.’s duty to conduct a detailed, independent, and impartial investigation on the allegations with an objective to secure accountability and reparation where evidences proved that a situation went badly wrong that brought grave consequences to civilians.

“One of the questions we will be looking at, is whether, given the local demography, aerial attacks carry too high a risk of a disproportionate number of civilian casualties. The explosion of drone technology [raises the question whether] the military dependence on UAVs carries an unacceptably high risk of civilian casualties,” said Emmerson.

The UN will review about 20 to 30 drone strikes to assess the extent of civilian casualties as a result of the different types of attacks. The investigation will study the U.K.’s military use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in its operations in Afghanistan, U.S. strikes in Pakistan, and Sahel region in Africa, as well as Israel’s drone strikes in Palestine.

“We welcome this investigation in the hopes that global pressure will bring the U.S. back into line with international law requirements that strictly limit the use of lethal force,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

“Virtually no other country agrees with the U.S.’s claimed authority to secretly declare people enemies of the state and kill them and civilian bystanders far from any recognized battlefield. To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government’s ever-expanding targeted killing program,” Shamsi added.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint last year against the United States over the drone strikes that killed three American civilians in Yemen including Alqaida leader, cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who was born in the U.S.

A study conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that drone strikes killed around 2,562 to 3,325 people in Pakistan between June 2004 and September 2012. The study estimates that around 474 to 881 were civilians, of whom 176 were children.