UN Launches Investigation Into Drone Strikes

Alistair Bunkall, Defence Correspondent

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights has formally launched an investigation into the use of drones.

The inquiry, which is expected to report back in the autumn, will look at the increased use of the technology, but importantly what is done to minimise civilian casualties and how such deaths are investigated when they happen.

It will focus on 25 incidents and take evidence from military personnel, civilians and journalists.

"Given the relative ease with which this technology can be deployed, and given its relatively low cost (both in economic terms, and in terms of the risk to the lives of service personnel of the States deploying the technology) the issue now has to be confronted squarely by the international community," Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur explained in a news conference on Thursday morning.

The UK government is clear that it only operates its drone fleet in Afghanistan - a recognised war zone and a country it has a legal right to be in.

The inquiry will primarily focus on strikes carried out by the United States in Pakistan and Yemen and Israeli operations in Gaza.

Drone strikes have increased considerably under Barack Obama's presidency.

International law has been left behind somewhat thereby polarising opinion.

The inquiry wants to bring together the opposing arguments to achieve some international consensus. That is very ambitious.

Some 51 countries now have drone capability - many more are developing their own programmes.

It goes without saying that not all are friendly. The report intends to make recommendations for the UN General Assembly to consider and set out a framework for the future.

As Mr Emmerson QC said: "The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay, and its use in theatres of conflict us a reality with which the world must contend."