Human Rights Clinic Advocates for Accountability for Targeted Killings

Calls for Compliance with International Law, Transparency, and an Effective Response to Civilian Deaths in Letter on Drone Strikes to U.N.

New York, September 22, 2014—Governments should disclose their targeted killing policies and ensure that any use of armed drones complies with international law and is subject to meaningful oversight, a coalition of leading international human rights NGOs and institutions, including the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, argue in a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“We are concerned about a future in which the U.S. is forever engaged in an international targeted killing program based on secret criteria, with no effective oversight or accountability,” said Bassam Khawaja ’15, one of the Columbia Law School students who contributed to the letter, together with Balqees Mihirig ’15 LL.M. and Surya Gopalan ’15 LL.M. 
The new letter builds upon prior human rights coalition letters on drone strikes sent to President Obama in 2013, and continues the clinic’s important work seeking accountability for targeted killings. 
LL.M student Mihirig, who is focusing her studies on international human rights law, said “credible reports of civilian deaths are deeply troubling and raise questions about state compliance with international legal obligations.”
Despite that, “the U.S. government does not explain who it is killing or why,” added Gopalan, who plans to practice as an international lawyer after earning his LL.M. degree.
The letter argues that a “refusal to acknowledge civilian harm is contrary to the rule of law, denies victims the justice they deserve, and compounds anger in impacted communities.” It further urges “states not to prevent cases alleging serious violations from being heard on their merits,” and calls on the Human Rights Council to pass a new resolution on targeted killings.
The letter was sent in advance of the Human Rights Council’s 27th regular session in Geneva, which includes a special panel discussion on targeted killings and the use of armed drones on September 22.  The Human Rights Clinic authored the letter together with the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Center for Human Rights & Global Justice and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law, the Center for Civilians in Conflict, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Open Society Foundation.
The Human Rights Clinic is an intensive year long course directed by Sarah Knuckey, the Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein Clinical Associate Professor of Human Rights and the faculty co-director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School. Knuckey is an expert on international law and the use of force, and blogs on human rights and national security at Students in the clinic are trained in international human rights advocacy and work in partnership with NGOs and communities around the world to advance social justice.