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2014 | HRC Summary of the interactive panel discussion of experts on the use of remotely piloted aircraft or armed drones in compliance with international law - A/HRC/28/38

This document provides a summary of the interactive panel discussion of experts on the use of armed drones in counterterrorism and military operations, held on 22 September 2014, during the twenty-seventh session of the Human Rights Council.

The panel examines the legality of the use of drones under international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law. At the outset, it is stated that the exponential growth of the use of drones in the context of military operations and counter-terrorism measures, has killed individuals, including bystanders. It emphasizes that States have an obligation to carry out prompt, independent and impartial investigations in case of credible indications that drone strikes have caused serious violations of international human rights law and/or humanitarian law. Against this backdrop, the panel addresses questions of transparency in, and accountability for, the use of armed drones, with a focus on the right of victims to a meaningful remedy.

Panel members note that the lack of transparency about the circumstances in which armed drones were used, as well as the involvement of intelligence agencies in drone bombings, has created obstacles to determining the applicable legal framework and ensuring compliance. Also, the lack of transparency hampers the possibility to hold persons criminally accountable for crimes under international law. This accountability vacuum subsequently obstructs the right to access to an effective remedy and reparation for victims.

The report outlines that States should release information about their use of armed drones and publicly disclose the legal criteria governing their lethal targeting operations, the records of their targeting decisions and operations, and should specify the safeguards in place to ensure compliance with international law. Panel members also note that States must make public the identity and number of individuals killed or injured in targeted killing operations and the measures in place to prevent civilian casualties. They must also ensure that victims are appropriately compensated and that there will be judicial accountability. In view of the latter, the report asserts that one of the obstacles victims face when trying to access courts, is the position taken by States that judicial inquiry into decisions regarding the use of drones is inappropriate. The report documents that U.S. courts have so far declined to judge the legality of drone strikes, arguing that the Executive power is the exclusive decision-making authority in matters of national security and supporting the position that secrecy is needed with regard to relevant government information. The panel members express their concern that when courts rely on this type of argument, victims are denied justice, emphasizing that States should permit judicial review of claims alleging grave violations of domestic and international law and recognize the plight of victims and their right to an effective remedy.