UN urged to probe Australia about its role in deadly US drone strikes

Australia needs to come clean about its role in the US’s deadly drone program in the wake of allegations that Pine Gap provides information used to locate targets of US drone strikes and the recent reports that two Australians were killed by drone strikes in Yemen.

The Human Rights Law Centre has written to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, asking him to investigate the lawfulness of the strike that killed the two Australians, as well any role that Australia might play in the US drone strike program.

The HRLC’s director of advocacy and research, Emily Howie, said Australia has failed to provide any information as to why two of its citizens were killed by the United States in drone strikes in Yemen in November last year.

“Australia’s ongoing secrecy about its role in the United States’ drone program is unacceptable.  Thousands of civilians have been killed as a result of US drone strikes. We currently have no way of knowing whether our security forces are supporting unlawful killing of civilians,” said Ms Howie.

The UN Special Rapporteur is authorised to investigate the human rights compliance of counter-terrorism operations, in this case to assess whether the drone strikes are consistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations.

“Two Australians have been killed by the United States. It is perfectly reasonable for the Australian public to want to know what exactly is going on here,” said Ms Howie.

With the United States set to reveal legal memos concerning its drone strikes and the Prime Minister of New Zealand admitting this week that his country plays a role in the assassination program, Ms Howie said Australia’s secrecy was increasingly out of touch and unsustainable.

“Drone strikes are not just undermining a rules-based international order, but they are fuelling resentment of Australia and its allies. We need a debate about what exactly Australians are willing to sign up to, what exactly is legal as well as what’s actually in our interest,” said Ms Howie.

The letter to the Special Rapporteur recommends asking the Australian and US governments to explain their assertions that the deaths were ‘lawful’ and provide information about the investigations that carried out in order to make that assessment. It also requests that information be sought on any role that Pine Gap facility may have played in the deaths or in the US drone program more generally.

“Given civilians are being killed by the US drone program and given the gravity of the allegations, we’re simply trying to get to the bottom of the legal, policy and regulatory framework that applies to any involvement by Australia in US drone strikes. Hopefully the UN can extract more information than the Australian Government has been willing to provide us to date,” said Ms Howie.

Copies of the letters can be found here:

  1. Letter from HRLC to PM, Defence Minister & Foreign Minister on Australian deaths from drone strikes (http://hrlc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Letter-from-HRLC-on-Australian-deaths-from-drone-strikes1.pdf)

  2. Attachments to the letter to the PM, Defence Minister and Foreign Minister (http://hrlc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Attachments-to-letter-from-HRLC-on-Australian-deaths-from-drone-strikes.pdf)
  3. Letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism on Australian deaths from drone strikes (http://hrlc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Letter-to-Special-Rapporteur-on-Australian-deaths-from-drone-strikes.pdf)

  4. Attachments to the letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-terrorism (http://hrlc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Attachments-to-letter-to-Special-Rapporteur-on-Australian-deaths-from-drone-strikes.pdf)

 For further information and comments contact: Emily Howie on 0421 370 997