|A US predator unmanned drone armed with a |
missile stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport.
Photograph: Massoud HossainiAFP/Getty
A United Nations investigation has so far identified 33 drone strikes around the world that have resulted in civilian casualties and may have violated international humanitarian law.
The report by the UN's special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson QC, calls on the US to declassify information about operations coordinated by the CIA and clarify its positon on the legality of unmanned aerial attacks.
Published ahead of a debate on the use of remotely piloted aircraft, at the UN general assembly in New York next Friday, the 22-page document examines incidents in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan and Gaza.
It has been published to coincide with a related report released earlier on Thursday by Professor Christof Heyns, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, which warned that the technology was being misused as a form of "global policing".
Emmerson, who traveled to Islamabad for his investigation, said the Pakistan ministry of foreign affairs has records of as many as 330 drone strikes in the country's north-western tribal areas since 2004. Up to 2,200 people have been killed – of whom at least 400 were civilians – according to the Pakistan government.
In Yemen, Emmerson's report says that as many as 58 civilians are thought to have been killed in attacks by UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).
"While the fact that civilians have been killed or injured does not necessarily point to a violation of international humanitarian law, it undoubtedly raises issues of accountability and transparency," the study notes.
Reaper UAVs, used by the RAF in Afghanistan, have a range of 3,700 miles (5,900 km), a maximum airspeed of 250 knots and can ascend to 15,300 meters (50,000 feet), the document explains. Their missions can last up to 18 hours.
The Reaper carries three cameras as well as laser-guided bombs. Three communication networks relay information between the RAF ground station in the UK and the UAV:
"a secure internet-based chat function, a secure radio routed via satellite and a secure telephone system".