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EOV on the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft or Armed Drones in Counter-Terrorism and Military Operations
March 28, 2014

Item 3:  Resolution on “Ensuring use of remotely piloted aircraft or armed drones in counter-terrorism and military operations
in accordance with international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law,” A/HRC/25/L.32  

Explanation of Vote by the Delegation of the United States of America

Delivered by Paula Schriefer
Human Rights Council 25th Session
Geneva, March 27, 2014

Mr. President and Fellow Council Members:

While there is no question that the Human Rights Council plays an important role in promoting respect for human rights in the context of our collective efforts to counter terrorism, the United States has serious concerns about this resolution.  We do not believe that the examination of specific weapons systems is a task for which the Human Rights Council is well suited, and we do not support efforts to take this body in that direction, much less in a resolution that in many key respects does little more than to duplicate work that is ongoing both under the auspices of the Council and in other venues.

With respect to our own counterterrorism operations, as we have stated publicly at the highest levels of our government, the United States is committed to ensuring that our actions, including those involving remotely piloted aircraft, are undertaken in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law and with the greatest possible transparency, consistent with our national security needs.  At the international level, we have engaged in discussions about RPAs in the context of broader discussions about human rights and counterterrorism, and we are open to further such discussions.  As you know, the United States is a traditional co-sponsor of the Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly counter-terrorism resolutions, which have both, in their most recent iterations, addressed issues relating to remotely piloted aircraft in operative paragraphs.  We have hosted Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson in Washington and discussed issues related to RPAs with him.  And more broadly, we have been thoroughly engaged in the Swiss-ICRC Initiative on Compliance with International Humanitarian Law, which we hope will provide a non-politicized forum in which experts, including military experts, can discuss law of war issues and exchange best practices.

But we do not support the text put forward today.  For all its expertise on matters relating to human rights, this Council is not an arms control forum, and does not have the expertise to venture into areas that should be addressed in those settings.  This resolution takes the Council too far in this direction.

We also wish to call attention to the broader context in which we are having this discussion.  While we do not discount the importance of today’s topic – which, as noted, is addressed in other Council and General Assembly resolutions, and on which two Special Rapporteurs have already reported and at least one of them is still working – we note that there is a broad range of other important topics in the realm of human rights and counter-terrorism that would benefit from the Council’s increased focus.  These include the use of force against peaceful protesters and the suppression of civil society or opposition voices on the pretext of countering terrorism; the labeling of human rights defenders as terrorists; and the detention of such individuals without minimum due process guarantees.  We hope that in moving beyond this resolution we can also refocus the Council’s attention on this critically important set of issues, which fall squarely within this Council’s competency and expertise, and which the international community looks to this body to address.

In this context, and for the reasons noted, we will vote against this resolution and we urge others to do the same.