This website provides information about Professor Philip Alston’s work during his mandate as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (August 2004—July 2010). This site also documents the work of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions. The site contains all of the country mission and UN reports prepared by Alston during his mandate, as well as news related to extrajudicial killings from 2005-2010. For information on the work of the current Special Rapporteur, Professor Christof Heyns, please see:

This site also contains the full text of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Handbook - a book containing detailed legal and policy analyses by Alston and the Project on Extrajudicial Executions. The Handbook organises into thematic chapters each of the issues the Special Rapporteur’s mandate covers, and contains sections clarifying the relevant law, analyzing gaps in the law, applying the law to common fact scenarios, setting out best practices, and surveying categories of unlawful killings around the world.

The handbook and the other information on this website are intended as a resource for academics, students, and practitioners workings in the field of human rights.

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  • Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Wikileaks' "war diary" provides detail on targeted killings by Special Forces in Afghanistan

    On January 26, 2010, published more than 90,000 confidential US military documents dating from January 2004 through December 2009. These “war files” document missions carried out in Afghanistan by the US army, including by Special Forces units such as Task Force 373 (TF-373), set up to capture or kill top Taliban and al-Qaida leaders listed on a Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL). The UN Special Rapporteur has previously reported [Afghanistan report] on covert missions to capture/kill suspects in Afghanistan, as well as on the law applicable to targeted killings.
    Interviews with Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions, on the implications of the wikileaks information, and the activities of TF 373, are available here and here.
    Links to select articles addressing the leak and its relation to targeted killings by US Special Forces can be found below.

    The Guardian
    Afghanistan war logs: Task Force 373 – special forces hunting top Taliban Afghanistan war logs: Secret CIA paramilitaries' role in civilian deaths Afghanistan war logs: How US marines sanitised record of bloodbath Afghanistan war logs: as it happened Afghanistan war logs: How the IED became Taliban's weapon of choice
    The New York Times
    View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan
    World BB News
    Wikileaks: a new journal of the disasters in Afghanistan

  • Friday, July 16, 2010

    News coverage of Special Rapporteur's fact-finding mission to Ecuador

    The preliminary findings of the Special Rapporteur have received extensive press coverage in both national and international press. Links to select articles can be found below.

    BBC: UN concerned about extrajudicial killings in Ecuador

    AFP: UN Special Rapporteur reports sharp increase in killings and impunity in Ecuador
    AP Latin America: UN Rapporteur amazed by impunity in Ecuador
    Univisión: UN reports 30 murders in Ecuador’s border region with Colombia
    Agencia EFE: UN Rapporteur calls the level of impunity for killings in Ecuador ‘scary’
    Europa Press: UN Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions reports a high level of impunity in Ecuador
    El Comercio: Bofetada de la ONU al Estado ; Editorial: Ecuador preocupa al relator de la ONU ; Artículo de opinión: Involución ; Artículo de opinión: Los incomprendidos
    El Universo: Sicariato worries UN Rapporteur ; Entrevista a la asambleísta María Paula Romo: “Autoridades deben aceptar las falencias” ; Informe del relator confirma que el sicariato prolifera en el país ; La delincuencia y el desempleo trastocan la acogida del régimen
    El Telégrafo: Cuestionan informe del relator de la ONU ; “No quisiera un informe manipulado”
    Diario Hoy: Policía usa al sicariato para cubrir crímenes
    El Expreso: Informe del relator queda registrado en la ONU, Fiscal dice que será archivado (REACCIONES)
    Diario La Hora: Campea Impunity ; Fiscal responde a relator de la ONU (REACCIONES) ; Plan de seguridad no da resultados

  • Monday, June 28, 2010

    Possible involvement of civilian contractors in covert targeting operations in Pakistan

    Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater (now called “Xe Services”), in commenting on General Stanley McChrystal’s dismissal, recently stated in an interview with CNBC:

    “I think one of the hardest things, for a guy like Gen. McChrystal, if he was getting complaints from his troops, it was very restrictive rules of engagement. Constant restraints on what they could do. I mean, you can’t drop a bomb from an airplane in Afghanistan without having a lawyer sign off on it. We’ve almost allowed lawyers to become what political officers were in the Soviet Union. The guys who can truly approve, and nix, anything a battlefield commander can do.”

    In a December 2009 article, Jeremy Scahill in The Nation wrote about allegations that the private security firm Blackwater/Xe Services is involved in covert targeting operations by the CIA and the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC, the covert operation wing of the US military) against terror suspects in Pakistan. According to one of Scahill’s sources, “ the program [involving Blackwater/Xe Services] is so ‘compartmentalized’ that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.”

    In another instance, a military intelligence source states:

    The Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as "Qatar cubed," in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. "This is supposed to be the brave new world," he says. "This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it's meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It's strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don't have to deal with that because they're operating under a classified mandate."

    According to sources quoted in the articles, the drone attacks in Pakistan with especially high civilian casualty rates are almost always carried out by the JSOC, which may be carrying out covert strikes in addition to the publicly unacknowledged CIA program. The allegations about JSOC operations, and Blackwater involvement, if true, further underscore the Special Rapporteur’s concerns regarding the US’s “expanding self-entitlement” to target individuals around the glob without adequate accountability. The Special Rapporteur has written about how the CIA targeted killing program’s being “shrouded in official secrecy” prevents an adequate inquiry into whether it complies with the laws of war in his recent report to the Human Rights Council.

  • Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Expansion of U.S. drone program amidst criticism

    The Columbia Tribune writes about the recent selection of Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri as a ground control station for unmanned drone missions. According to the Tribune:

    The U.S. Air Force now has the capability to fly 42 Predator drone combat air patrol missions. Most of them are controlled by pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The secretary of defense asked the Air Force to increase its capacity to 65 missions. Whiteman will account for five of the new missions.

    The article details technical specifications of the armed Predator drone, but also speaks of criticism of the expansion of the U.S.’s drone program. The Tribune notes the Special Rapporteur’s criticism, stating:

    Philip Alston, a U.N. expert on extrajudicial killings, called for a halt to drone strikes, saying they only could be justified when capturing a target with non-lethal tactics is impossible. Alston worried about a “Playstation mentality” among remote operators in the United States given a license to kill.

    The Special Rapporteur's complete analysis of targeted killing, by drones or otherwise, is available in his report on the subject to the Human Rights Council.

  • Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urges government to heed Special Rapporteur's remarks

    The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) issued a statement extensively referring to the Special Rapporteur's report on targeted killings.

    The HRCP "asks the government to pay attention to the report’s recommendations, particularly with regard to transparency in accountability to investigate unlawful targeted killings. Terrorists not playing by rules does not justify governments casting those rules aside or reinterpreting them. The UN expert correctly points out that the credibility of any government’s claim that it is fighting to uphold the rule of law indeed depends on its willingness to disclose how it interprets and applies the law and the actions it takes when the law is broken."

  • Monday, June 21, 2010

    Kenyan newspaper urges Parliament to "give teeth" to proposed police oversight body

    As the Kenyan parliament considers whether to establish a new Independent Police Oversight Authority, a piece in Kenya’s Daily Nation urges the government to heed the Special Rapporteur’s recent report on report on police oversight mechanisms.

    As the Daily Nation notes, “Unlawful killings by the police remain a problem in Kenya; they are historically protected by a culture of impunity that largely continues to this day.” The current police oversight board has no investigative powers of its own, which has thoroughly hampered its effectiveness, and, according to the Daily Nation, “relegated it to to the role of record-keeper, passing complaints on to the police and then, along with those who filed the complaint, sitting and waiting.”

    Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur has recommended that the oversight board have investigative powers similar to those of the police. He has also recommended that the board’s members be appointed through a transparent and democratic process as occurs in South Africa. Currently, as the Daily Nation explains, “the sole authority to hire and fire Board members is the Minister for Internal Security,” which also reports exclusively to the Minister.

    Finally, the news report notes the tenuous status of the current oversight board, established as it is through a Gazette notice by the Minister for Internal Security, “which means that it can be repealed just as easily.” To guarantee long-term security, any such agency must be set up by legislation, as the Special Rapporteur has suggested.

  • Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Philippines: Two journalists who spoke against corruption killed

    The New York Times reports on the killing of two radio journalists within twenty four hours of each other. Both journalists, the NY Times reports, were widely known for “searing commentaries on corruption.” The report describes the Philippines as “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists,” and describes the situation thus:

    According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, 139 journalists and media workers, including drivers and crew members, have been slain in the Philippines since the toppling of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. That figure includes dozens of journalists who were among 57 people massacred last November in Maguindanao Province, in the south. Nearly 200 people, including 16 members of a powerful political clan, have been charged in those killings.

    The Special Rapporteur wrote about violence against journalists in his 2008 report on the Philippines, noting at that time that “journalists are killed with increasing frequency” and “there is a lamentable degree of impunity for [their murders].”

  • Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Brazilian official acknowledges ongoing police killings

    Brazilian human rights minister Paulo Vannuchi told UN Radio his government is “able to recognize that there are human rights violations in the country.” Vannuchi, special secretary of the Special Secretariat for Human Rights of Brazil, was responding to the Special Rapporteur’s recent progress review on Brazil, which identifies ongoing illegal killings and “vigilante justice” by civil and military police.

    The Special Rapporteur’s most recent review follows his mission two and a half years ago, in which he reported police executing innocent civilians while acting in the service of militias or death squads in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Pernambuco. Vannuchi welcomed the progress review, noting that despite recent federal-level reforms, abuse of lethal force by police “unfortunately happens in Brazil …” and that "… in general, none of the points mentioned by [the Special Rapporteur] seem to be without foundation of truth."

    The Special Rapporteur visited Brazil in November 2007. His follow-up report, released in May, points out that despite recent government efforts at reform, extrajudicial killings by police and gangs are still widespread and committed with impunity.

  • Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Special Rapporteur questions Sri Lanka's handling of war crime allegations

    The Sri Lanka Daily Mirror writes that the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston “has accused the Sri Lankan government of double standards for rejecting an international investigation over alleged war crimes in the island but backing a similar probe on Israel.” He has drawn ire from the Sri Lankan government for finding that the Sri Lankan reconciliation commission, instituted to deal with atrocities committed during Sri Lanka’s decades-long conflict with insurgents, is not mandated,n or properly equipped under international standards, for the critical task of securing accountability for violations of human rights and humanitarian law during the conflict.

  • Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Special Rapporteur calls for reparations to civilian victims of conflict

    In the Huffington Post, the executive director of Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) writes about the emerging trend of "warring parties' 'making amends' to civilians harmed in war. " Though parties to a conflict have no legal obligation to compensate civilians they lawfully harm, CIVIC's director characterises this as a "gap in international law," which CIVIC has focused on extensively. The piece points out how the Special Rapporteur, in his 2009 Afghanistan report and 2010 annual report, draws attention to the positive effects of compensating civilians harmed in war. As the Special Rapporteur points out, problems still remain in the administration and distribution of these compensatory payments. Another problem is the inconsistent state practice among the multinational forces in Afghanistan in offering such payments.