• Monday, February 01, 2010

    Special Rapporteur quoted on the subject of engaging armed groups in human rights dialogue

    A working paper by Andrew Clapham of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian law and Human Rights discusses how international humanitarian law and international human rights law, traditionally addressed to States, can create obligations for armed non-state actors. According to Clapham, while it has long been established, through interpretations of treaty law as well as customary international law, special agreements and unilateral declarations in armed conflicts, that international humanitarian law can apply to non-state actors, “the argument that armed non-state actors are [also] bound by international human rights law has only recently been made with conviction.” Clapham states that the assumption regarding the international law obligations upon non-state actors is changing in part due to “recent UN practice with regard to human rights reports on non-state actors by Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council,” and he excerpts from UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston’s report on his mission to Sri Lanka, in which the Special Rapporteur states:

    "I have previously noted that it is especially appropriate and feasible to call for an armed group to respect human rights norms when it ‘exercises significant control over territory and population and has an identifiable political structure’. This visit clarified both the complexity and the necessity of applying human rights norms to armed groups. On the one hand, it is an organization with effective control over a significant stretch of territory, engaged in civil planning and administration, maintaining its own form of police force and judiciary. On the other hand, it is an armed group that has been subject to proscription, travel bans, and financial sanctions in various Member States. The tension between these two roles is at the root of the international community’s hesitation to address the LTTE and other armed groups in the terms of human rights law. The international community does have human rights expectations to which it will hold the LTTE, but it has long been reluctant to press these demands directly if doing so would be to ‘treat it like a State’.

    It is increasingly understood, however, that the human rights expectations of the international community operate to protect people, while not thereby affecting the legitimacy of the actors to whom they are addressed.”

    Clapham also quotes from Special Rapporteur Alston’s reports on Lebanon (in collaboration with other Special Rapporteurs) and his report on Afghanistan for further illustrations of how it is increasingly “appropriate and feasible” to engage with non-state actors about their human rights obligations.

  • Monday, February 01, 2010

    How unmanned drones are changing modern warfare

    The U.K. is increasing its investment in drone technology, in the wake of a U.S. force of over 7,000 unmanned aerial vehicles. The increasingly widespread use of drones, however, raises concerns about detachment from situations involving the use of lethal force. For instance, the U.S. is already recruiting drone pilots from among young men skilled at computer games who may never need to leave the security of a cabin full of computer screens on home soil. Air Vice Marshal Tim Anderson, trained in British military tradition, has his concerns. But he hopes that responsibility for combat will still "imbue within operators an appropriate sense of culture and ethos, such that it never becomes a video game".

    There are also concerns about the lack of transparency the use of drones by the C.I.A. Given the secrecy surrounding CIA operations that there are no clear rules of engagement. There is "no accountability after the fact" says Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions.

    How unmanned drones are changing modern warfare (BBC News, February 2010)

  • Monday, February 08, 2010

    RAF reported to be 'relying' on drones in Afghanistan

    The Guardian reported today that British forces are relying increasingly on unmanned drones to attack targets in Afghanistan, mirroring controversial tactics used by the US.

    New Ministry of Defence figures show the RAF has fired 84 missiles from Reaper drones since they were first deployed there in June 2008, with more than 20 being fired over the past two months.

    The RAF has not disclosed the number of US-made Reapers deployed in Afghanistan, but say they will double the total over the next two years. Defence chiefs say they have been slow to recognise their potential, both in a surveillance role and as a weapons carrier.

    Read the full article here.

    Philip Alston and Hina Shamsi responded in an article arguing that Britain's use of drones in the war in Afghanistan must be in accordance with international law. The article can be found here.

  • Tuesday, February 09, 2010

    Special Rapporteur to visit Albania

    The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr Philip Alston, will visit Albania from 15 to 23 February 2010, at the invitation of the Albanian Government. During the visit, Professor Alston will travel to Tiranë and the region of Shkodër, and will investigate unlawful killings, including blood feuds, and issues of impunity and accountability for killings.

    Mr Alston will meet with Government officials, members of the judiciary and members of the legislature. His visit will also include meetings with victims, family members of victims, and witnesses to killings, as well as civil society organizations. His responsibilities include monitoring and reporting on alleged unlawful killings and their underlying causes, and on whether effective legal action has been taken to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible.

    Mr Alston will hold a press conference on 23 February at 11:00 a.m. at the Rogner Hotel in Tirana, at which he will present his preliminary conclusions and recommendations. His report on the visit will be presented to a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.


  • Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    UN Special Rapporteur mission to Albania

    Today, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions completed his 9-day fact-finding mission to Albania. He investigated blood feuds, domestic violence, and accountability issues related to the Gërdec explosion, communist-era abuses, and alleged killings in Albania following the Kosovo war.

    His findings were reported in a number of articles, some of which can be found below:

    U.N. Sleuth Calls on Albania to Allow Organ Inquiry
    UN official urges Albania to probe organ claims
    UN Calls on Albania To Investigate Communist Crimes

  • Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Night raids in Afghanistan are counterproductive, according to study

    A joint study by the Open Society Institute and the Afghan NGO, The Liaison Office, available below, finds that night raids as "currently conceived and conducted" by international forces in Afghanistan to apprehend alleged insurgents are counterproductive because the animosity they generate among the local population outweighs their possible strategic benefits. Problems with night raids include: a lack of coordination between the special forces that often conduct them and the local military command structure, misinformation from sources of questionable credibility, abuses by poorly trained or supervised local Afghan security forces or local militias recruited for the raids, and a lack of accountability for complaints.

    The study notes that, despite a host of “positive policy changes” made after July 2009, pursuant to a new military strategy focused less on killing insurgents than on cutting off their support in Afghan communities, night raids have continued in much the same way as before. In the context of night raids, the study cites UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s criticism of international forces for their inability or unwillingness to identify which units are involved in specific operations. Special Rapporteur Alston, in a press statement issued at the conclusion of his mission to Afghanistan in 2008, described the quest for clarification as to who participated in an operation to be “like entering a maze.” The study finds the Special Rapporteur’s criticism to still be relevant almost two years later. The Special Rapporteur’s complete report on his mission to Afghanistan, which includes his findings about problematic aspects of night raids, is available here.

  • Saturday, February 27, 2010

    Special Rapporteur says European countries must not ignore killing of Hamas leader in Dubai

    According to the Associated Press:

    Several people alleged to be responsible for killing Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his hotel room in Dubai last month used European passports and left a trail through France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands. However, the European countries are reluctant to investigate those involved, perhaps because of the widely held belief that the killing of al-Mabhouh was carried out by Israel's intelligence agency, Experts to say arresting Israeli agents - or even digging up further evidence that Israel was involved - could be politically costly.

    The AP quotes Victor Mauer, deputy director of the Center for Security Studies at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology: "I would guess that it's in the political interest of certain countries not to get proactive in this case"... "Countries such as Germany have a special relationship with Israel because of their history and therefore wouldn't be interested in investigating."

    Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said European countries would be wrong to ignore the case. "If a foreign intelligence agency was responsible for the killing of al-Mabhouh, the matter should clearly be classified as an extrajudicial execution," he said. "All states have an unquestioned obligation to investigate and prosecute anyone accused of a killing who they have reason to believe is within their jurisdiction. Political considerations can never be invoked to avoid taking the necessary action."

    He also told the Los Angeles Times, "There is no legal justification for the cold-blooded murder of a man who, if alleged to have committed crimes, could have been arrested and charged. Political murders of this type undermine the fabric of international law as well as stoke the fires of conflict."

    Below is the AP report as well as reports from other news agencies mentioning the Special Rapporteur's response to the killing in Dubai.