Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic Travels to Europe to Advocate for Greater Transparency in the Use of Armed Drones
The Clinic presented its innovative framework for improving transparency in the use of drones and urged European countries to adopt protective policies that respect human rights.
New York, October 23, 2017 – A team from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and a representative from the Clinic’s partner organization Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies traveled to Europe in September to present their recent report “Out of the Shadows” and advocate for greater transparency in drone strikes.
“Transparency is essential for communities affected by U.S. strikes,” said Waleed Alhariri, co-author of the report and director of the New York Office of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. “Not knowing why civilians were killed makes people fearful and angry, and aggravates their trauma and loss. Transparency is needed for accountability.”
The team met with government officials and NGOs in the United Kingdom and Germany, and NATO officials in Belgium. They advocated for an alternative to the United States’ secretive drone policies and practices. The team also presented its report at public events and conferences in London, Milan, and Geneva.
“Transparency is also essential for the rule of law and democratic participation,” said Alex Moorehead, co-author of the report, and Director of the Counterterrorism, Armed Conflict, and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute. “European countries must not repeat the mistakes of the U.S. government. Secrecy by the United States has undermined counterterrorism efforts and increased the suffering of the families of those killed.”
The report “Out of the Shadows” analyzes 15 years of U.S. secrecy regarding drone strikes in Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. The report evaluates U.S. policy and practice against a set of new transparency benchmarks that will aid policymakers, journalists, civil society, and the public to track the level of secrecy over time, and to monitor and evaluate whether the U.S. government is improving transparency or rolling back positive reforms.
“Our advocacy in Europe coincided with worrying reports about the Trump Administration’s plans to expand drone strikes,” said Rachel Fleig-Goldstein, JD ’18, one of three Human Rights Clinic students who participated in the advocacy in Europe.
“This new development is a grave threat to the hard-won—albeit limited—reforms on U.S. drone policy in recent years,” added Sophia Wistehube, JD ’19, also a student in the Clinic. “The time is now opportune for European governments to adopt policies that protect civilians and human rights, and respect existing international law.”
“As Europe becomes an increasingly important user of drones, it is vital that governments and NGOs across the Atlantic work together to uphold international standards,” said Tamar Luster, LLM ’18. “I was inspired to see how NGOs from different countries unite to reinforce human rights.”
The Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic works to advance human rights through partnerships with civil society organizations and communities. The clinic carries out human rights investigations, legal and policy analysis, litigation, report-writing, and international advocacy. The clinic brings together innovative education, social justice work, and scholarly research, and students are trained to be strategic human rights lawyers.
The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies (SCSS) is an independent policy and research think-tank based in Sana’a, Yemen. SCSS work focuses on providing new approaches to understanding Yemen and the surrounding region, through balanced perspectives, in-depth studies, and expert analysis. Founded in 2014, SCSS conducts research and consultations in the fields of political, economic, civil, and social development, in addition to providing technical and analytical advice regarding key issues of local, regional, and international concern.