• Sunday, May 02, 2010

    Mixed views of drone strikes in Pakistan

    The Los Angeles Times reports several instances in which missiles from drones have killed civilians in Pakistan’s tribal area and describes the mixed views of the US due to the drone program. The report notes that estimates of the number of civilian casualties due to drones vary enormously: from 30 deaths througout the duration of the program to 708 civilian deaths in 2009 alone. The drone strikes in Pakistan, unlike the ones in Afghanistan, are carried out by the US Central Intelligence Agency and are technically covert, though widely known. According to a counter-terrorism official quoted in the report, "targets are chosen with extreme care, factoring in concepts like necessity, proportionality and an ironclad obligation to minimize loss of innocent life and property damage." However, as the Special Rapporteur, quoted in the report, has argued, "without full disclosure of the CIA drone program, 'opportunities for abuse are immense,'" and "there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international law." Furthermore, as the LA Times reports, drone strikes in Pakistan may be strategically counterproductive because they alienate the local population, according to some counterinsurgency experts.

  • Monday, May 10, 2010

    Special Rapporteur urges Honduras to take action against journalist killings

    UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston, along with two other Special Rapporteurs, issued a joint statement calling on Honduras to take immediate action to end violence against journalists in the country. The Special Rapporteurs are responding to a situation in which seven journalists have been killed in the past six weeks, with several others threatened. According to the joint statement, “Journalists play a critical role in strengthening human rights through their work…Silencing them not only curtails freedom of opinion and expression, but also jeopardizes the enjoyment of all rights and freedoms of society as a whole.” The Special Rapporteurs also state that they will “closely scrutinize the response of the Government” to the spate of journalist deaths.

  • Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    Mexico: Special Rapporteur speaks out against killing of human rights activists

    Special Rapporteur Philip Alston issued a joint statement with three other UN Special Rapporteurs to speak out against the recent killing of two human rights activists in Mexico. The human rights workers and several others, including journalists, were killed in an ambush by a paramilitary group while they were on a monitoring mission in the Oaxaca region. Four members of the monitoring mission were eventually rescued days later by police. Acknowledging the challenges Mexico faces in fighting drug cartels, Special Rapporteur Alston stated, nonetheless, “Human rights must not be permitted to be a casualty in the fight against drugs and crimes.”

  • Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    Kenya: ICC case against perpetrators of 2007 election violence moves forward

    The BBC reports on the progress by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo in his prospective case against perpetrators of post-election violence in Kenya. According to the report, Ocampo said that he intended to prosecute up to six suspects in two trials, which he expected to begin in 2011. According to the report, Ocampo “had earlier warned [that] his investigation would target politicians from both sides of Kenya’s coalition governments.” The report notes that witnesses to the violence who have offered to testify have complained of threats against them. UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston wrote about the response of the Kenyan government to violence following the December 2007 elections, in his 2009 mission report on Kenya. He commended the establishment of a domestic investigative commission, but expressed concern about a continuing lack of accountability at the time for officials responsible for organizing or instigating the post-election violence as well as problems with the investigative commission's witness protection program.

  • Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Continuing debate over US authorizing the targeted killing of a US citizen

    The NY times explores the continuing debate over the US’s authorization to carry out a targeted killing against the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is currently in Yemen and whose inflammatory rhetoric authorities believe is linked with several recent terrorist plots against the US.

    According to the NY Times report, the targeting of a US citizen may raise additional legal hurdles, due to the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee to citizens against “[deprivation] of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” As the NY Times explains it: “In a traditional war, anyone allied with the enemy, regardless of citizenship, is a legitimate target; German-Americans who fought with the Nazis in World War II were given no special treatment.” However, the report continues, the fact that “[al-Awlaki] is located far from hostilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan” and any “traditional battlefield” may call for some sort “judicial process” before he is killed.

    When it was initially disclosed that al-Awlaki was on the CIA’s target list, UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston gave an interview with Democracy Now on the legal questions involved in targeting al-Awlaki.

    For Special Rapporteur Alston, the fact that “we don’t know what [al-Awlaki] is accused of,” makes it difficult to determine the legality of the order authorizing his targeting. According to the Special Rapporteur, the US has justified placing al-Awlaki on the capture-or-kill list based on the accusation that he is working with a group that is affiliated with Al Qaeda. This, however, leaves several further questions. As the Special Rapporteur states, one factor in determining the legality of targeting al-Awlaki is whether he is taking “an active part in hostilities,” for instance, planning operations or acting as a member of a chain of command, or whether he is just “a propaganda man.” Even if he is taking active part in hostilities, as the Special Rapporteur further explains, the legality of targeting him depends on a determination of what armed conflict al-Awlaki is involved in with the Unites States, which necessarily implicates unresolved questions about the extent of the armed conflict against terrorism and whether it includes Yemen. According to the Special Rapporteur in the interview, as regards Yemen, “most observers would question whether there is an ongoing armed conflict.”

  • Friday, May 14, 2010

    Singapore: Challenge to mandatory death penalty is unsuccessful

    A man in Singapore convicted of trafficking in 47.27 grams of a controlled substance was sentenced to death and subsequently appealed the sentence on grounds that the imposition of mandatory death sentence for drug-related crimes under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act is impermissible under the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore. The Court of Appeal of Singapore dismissed the appeal. The appellant relied in part on an argument that any death sentence carried out pursuant to a mandatory death penalty provision is a deprivation of life not “in accordance with law” under Singapore’s Constitution, despite the fact that there are several laws in Singapore prescribing the mandatory death penalty for various offenses, because the term “law” in the expression “in accordance with law” is to be read broadly as importing customary international law regarding the right to life.

    In its judgment, the Court quotes Special Rapporteur’s Philip Alston’s statement that, “No international human rights tribunal anywhere in the world has ever found a mandatory death penalty regime compatible with international human rights norms.” The Special Rapporteur also wrote extensively on the mandatory death penalty in his report to the Fifth Session of the Human Rights Council in 2007.

    Notwithstanding, the Court of Singapore states that almost thirty countries continue to impose, in law and in practice, the mandatory death penalty for drug-related offenses. The Court thus declines to recognize a prohibition on the mandatory death penalty as constituting a part of customary international law. The Court also distinguished the case before it from cases in which high courts in other countries struck down mandatory death penalty provisions, stating that, unlike those countries, the Singapore Constitution contains no express prohibition of “inhuman punishment,” and the government of Singapore has previously rejected a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting inhuman punishment.

    The judgment of the Court is available below.

  • Monday, May 17, 2010

    Article urges further disclosure on US targeted killings program

    An article in Security Watch, discussing the targeted killings by US drones in Pakistan, points out:

    "Prior to 9/11, US governments had also continuously condemned the Israeli campaign of targeted assassinations in the Palestinian Territories as 'extrajudicial killings, we do not support', as Martin Indyk, then-US ambassador to Israel, put it in July 2001. Back then, even former CIA chief George Tenet advised against the use of armed drones by his agency, arguing that it would be 'a terrible mistake [for] the CIA to fire a weapon like that.'"

    The article states that the US administration has not yet disclosed “the precautions taken to ensure the legality of the targets under international humanitarian law as well as potential review mechanisms after the strike, and the safeguards designed to minimize civilian harm.” It quotes Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, who states that “the onus is really on the US government to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary judicial executions aren’t in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons.” The Special Rapporteur recently commented on the US Administration’s legal justification of its drone program.

  • Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Sri Lanka: reports of upswing in war crimes as conflict with rebels came to an end

    A recent report released by International Crisis Group states that the scale and nature of violence in the 30-year conflict between Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) worsened from January 2009 to the end of the conflict in May. According to the report, evidence suggests that in these months, “tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and the elderly [were] killed, countless more wounded and hundreds of thousands [were] deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths.” The report includes a recommendation that the Sri Lankan government “[c]ooperate fully with international efforts to investigate alleged war crimes, including a UN-mandated international inquiry, guaranteeing free access to the conflict area and effective protection of witnesses.”

    Since his 2005 visit, UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston has engaged in dialogue with the Sri Lankan government, and has called for the establishment of a full-fledged international human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka. The 2006 report on his mission to Sri Lanka and his 2008 follow-up report are available here and here.

    According to Sri Lankan news, "a Sri Lankan army commander has confirmed that orders to execute Tamils in the last phase of the war came from the top ranks of the Sri Lankan government." Special Rapporteur Alston earlier investigated summary executions of LTTE members, namely through the commission of expert analysis of a video originally shown by UK-based Channel 4 which purported to show the execution of Tamil Tigers by members of the Sri Lankan army. The report of the investigation and related press coverage can be found under the January 2010 news section of the website.

  • Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    In-depth interview with Special Rapporteur on his work

    Australia’s Radio National conducts an in-depth interview with the Special Rapporteur on his upcoming presentation to the UN on the legal implications of the use of drones and on his country visits. In the first half of the interview, concerning drones, the Special Rapporteur notes that about 40 countries have drone technology, and that Israel and Russia have been using drones in ways similar to the US. The Special Rapporteur states, “The most important thing we need to do is set up rules that are going to govern all countries [in the use of this technology]. He continues, “So, the rules that the United States … is now claiming should apply would not look very attractive to the US if invoked by China, for example, and China announced that it was going to go into Cambodia or some other neighboring country and take out people that it considered to be terrorists.”

    The Special Rapporteur states that his presentation will focus, in part, on accountability and follow-up after drone attacks in which there are allegations of a high number of civilian deaths. He states that the US military in Afghanistan “does an intensive follow-up” in such circumstances, but the situation in Pakistan is different because the drone attacks are carried out by the CIA with minimal accountability and “no obvious commitment [as an organization] to the laws of war.” The Special Rapporteur points out several fundamental differences between military organizations and intelligence agencies relevant to the practice of targeted killings. He also responds to criticism from correspondents who accuse him of seeking to unreasonably restrict action against the Taliban, who themselves do not abide by the rules of law.

    In the second half of the interview, the Special Rapporteur candidly discusses the politics involved in decisions to invite him to make official visits, problems with the Human Rights Council and his experiences in Kenya and Colombia. Acknowledging the dangers faced by people who collaborate with him on his visits, the Special Rapporteur mentions that he has urged the UN to set up a mechanism for dealing with such threats.

  • Thursday, May 27, 2010

    Press coverage of Special Rapporteur's published report on Colombia

    The AP and Reuters write about Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s recently published report on his June 2009 mission to Colombia. The Special Rapporteur investigated the phenomenon of “false positive killings,” which were widespread from 2004 to 2008, and which the AP, relying on the report, describes as “killing in which civilians were lured to remote locations before being shot by soldiers who then dressed their victims in combat gar, or placed a gun in their hand, to make them appear like guerrillas killed in gunfights.” As the AP recounts, while the killings did not appear to be part of government policy, Special Rapporteur Alston also disputed official claims that they were isolated incidents by “individual rogue soldiers or units,” given the sheer number and similarity of the killings.

    In his report, the Special Rapporteur cited reliable estimates that the rate of impunity for killings by security forces was as high as 98.5 percent, and made several recommendations to address the situation: transfer all such cases to civilian courts, suspend those suspected of involvement for the duration of the proceedings, prohibit all incentives given to armed forces members for “combat killings,” and exercise tighter control and greater transparency over rewards given to civilians for information on criminal and guerilla activity (a reward system that may have substantially contributed to the selection and eventual deaths of many “false positive” victims).

    Reuters also describes the Special Rapporteur’s findings related to killings by illegal armed groups composed of former paramilitaries, which now “engage in and are financially sustained by drug trafficking, [extortion], kidnapping, money-laundering and other criminal behaviour.”

    The Special Rapporteur's Colombia report and accompanying press statements are available below.

  • Friday, May 28, 2010

    Press coverage of Special Rapporteur's forthcoming report on targeted killings

    The New York Times and Associated Press report on Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s upcoming 3 June report to the United Nations on the legality of targeted killings. According to the NY Times, he is expected to call on the US to end CIA drone strikes because “‘the life and death power’ of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces, not intelligence agencies.” The articles both report on Special Rapporteur Alston’s focus on the need for accountability for drone strikes.