12 March 2014

Will the USA pledge to respect the right to life overseas?

YEM MuradSubay WhyDidYouKillMyFamilyGraffiti produced by Yemeni artist Murad Subay

Initially scheduled in October 2013 and postponed due to the government shutdown, the review of the fourth periodic report of the United States of America (USA) by the UN Human Rights Committee will finally take place in Geneva on Thursday 13 and Friday 14 March 2014. This review will be the opportunity for the UN's experts to assess the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by the USA and to establish a dialogue with the U.S. delegation based on contributions from multiple civil society actors. On this occasion, Alkarama calls on the U.S. authorities to put an end to extrajudicial killings in Yemen and reminds them of their duty to respect the right to life of every human being, be it inside or outside its borders.

In view of this evaluation, Alkarama submitted a contribution to the Committee's experts specifically assessing the U.S.' implementation of article 2 of the ICCPR, related to the scope of applicability of the Covenant, as well as article 6 with regard to its 'targeted killings' policy in Yemen. This contribution also provides the experts with a sample of 11 alleged U.S. drone strikes carried out in Yemen between 2009 and 2013 and assesses their legality under the Covenant.

The right to life has no borders
In the 4th periodical report the USA presented to the UN Human Rights Committee, it refuses to consider that the Covenant's provisions apply to its military operations in Yemen. It affirms "[t]hat article 2(1) would apply only to individuals who were both within the territory of a State Party and within that State Party's jurisdiction". While the extraterritorial applicability of the Covenant is not clearly established in article 2 of the ICCPR, international jurisprudence has been constant for more than 30 years, providing several examples of the obligation of State parties to ensure that the Covenant's provisions are implemented extraterritorially. Amongst these examples, the Committee stated in its communication No. 52/1979 (Lopez-Burgos vs. Uruguay), that "[it] would be unconscionable to so interpret the responsibility under article 2 of the Covenant on the territory of another State, which violations it could not perpetrate in its own territory". This position has been confirmed by the Committee in numerous other cases since then.

The Committee's jurisprudence also affirms the central character of the right to life in the Covenant by stating that "[t]he right enshrined in this article (article 6) is the supreme right of the human being. It follows that the deprivation of life by the authorities of the State is a matter of the utmost gravity".

There is no valid argument which could allow the United States to escape its international obligations regarding the Covenant. The so-called 'targeted killings' policy therefore clearly violates article 6 of the Covenant which is applicable to the USA's military operations in Yemen. There is no declared war between the USA and Yemen. The U.S. strikes in Yemen have led to the execution without any transparent legal procedures of 1 231 individuals over the past 11 years

Alkarama has established, after thorough research and documentation of the strikes on the ground, that these clearly contradict the guidelines established by the USA itself. The State party affirms that lethal force is used in Yemen only to "prevent or stop attacks against U.S. persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively" and considers that its targeted killing policy "is consistent with all applicable domestic and international law". In its contribution to the UN's experts, Alkarama demonstrates that in several of the cases, the targets were killed shortly after having been released from prison, or were individuals who could have been easily arrested and tried for their alleged offences.

In 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, declared:"[c]urrent targeting practices weaken the rule of law. Killings may be lawful in an armed conflict but many targeted killings take place far from areas where it's recognised as being an armed conflict.". Despite clear consensus amongst the international community to condemn this practice, the State party continues to openly violate its international obligation under the Covenant. Even more concerning is the fact that the United States does not show any political will to bring this policy in line with the Covenant's provisions: its answers to the Committee's questions on the matter have so far remained vague and have not provided any indication of positive steps to ensure a better compliance of its obligations under international law.

Alkarama therefore recommends the State party:
1) Immediately cease all violations of the Covenant's provisions, and in particular violations of article 6.
2) Launch independent and transparent inquiries into acts having led to violations of the right to life as set out in article 6, and condemn perpetrators of extrajudicial executions.
3) Provide full reparation to victims that have survived strikes, and to their families in the case where their loved one has died due to U.S. strikes.

The review of the United States of America by the UN Human Rights Committee will take place on Thursday 13 March 2014, at 3 pm (GMT+1) and on Friday 14 March 2014 at 10 am (GMT+1) at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. To follow it live, click here & follow us @AlkaramaHR 

Over the past two years, Alkarama has been documenting US airstrikes carried out since 2009 in Yemen. We have submitted all information documented on these strikes to the UN Special Procedures as allegations of extrajudicial killings.


To learn more about Alkarama's work on the subject, please refer to:

200x287-images-stories-Yemen DronePublicReport EN Cover

 "License to kill: Why the American Drone War on Yemen Violated International Law", Alkarama's public report presenting the results of our field research and analysis on the US strategy in its 'war on terror' with respect to international, examines the reactions of the US and Yemeni officials and civil society groups in light of the serious violations committed. You will find in this report detailed information on 10 US air strikes carried out between 2009 and 2013






YEM Radaa Dronestrike Dec2013

"Yemen/USA: When a drone strike turns a wedding into a tragedy"

On 12 December 2013 at 4:30 pm, a wedding procession composed of 14 vehicles and 70 passengers was targeted by 4 missiles launched from a drone. The result was 12 people killed and 13 injured...




On Alkarama's Youtube Channel: "License to kill – US airstrikes in Yemen": Audio-visual content on U.S. airstrikes in Yemen produced by Alkarama. You will find video footage on two U.S. air strikes carried out in 2012 and 2013 in Yemen in Rada'a, Baydha, which caused the death of dozens of civilians.