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At UN, Expert Heyns Tells ICP of Legal Flaws of Drones and US Sales

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 25 -- US drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia are problematic, the UN system's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns told Inner City Press at Thursday afternoon at the UN. Video here, from Minute 31:50.

Along with a question on execution in Sri Lanka, Inner City Press asked Heyns about drone strikes, as it had last week asked US State Department official Harold Koh. Heyns answer was different than Koh's, and made different points than fellow Rapporteur Ben Emmerson.

Heyns told Inner City Press that he (and Emmerson) will submit a report on drones "next year to the [UN] General Assembly in October." He said while "the use of a drone is not inherently illegal... in Yemen, Somalia and so forth it is problematic, outside the theater of war."

Inner City Press has also asked about Pakistan, but Heyns did not mention it by name. He continued that "the inherent nature of drone, far away from where there is a military conflict taking place" raised two issues "when you look at the defense by US officals" like Koh.

Heyns summarized that US defense as "it's an act of self-defense, so the normal rules of international humanitarian law don't apply." He said, "that's wrong -- first ask if entitled to self-defense, then ask if comply with international humanitarian law."

He said, "the largest problem is tartgeting individuals who are not direct participants. There is a general requirement they be an immediate threat, enemy combattants or those participating in hostilities... Mere membership is not enough."

He concluded that beyond the US' own use, "the US agreed sell to 66 countries, maybe 70 states already have drones.. there's the specter of collateral damage anywhere."

Click here for Heyns' answers to Inner City Press on Sri Lanka; click here for US official Harold Koh's answers to Inner City Press on drones. Watch this site.

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