The past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity aimed at achieving greater transparency and accountability with respect to the U.S. government’s practice of “targeted killing” (primarily through the use of drones). To begin, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, announced in late January the launch of an investigation into the “civilian impact” and “human rights implications” of drone attacks and other targeted killings by the U.S. and other states. The rapporteur claimed that such attacks pose a serious challenge to the existing framework of international law, and therefore require the development of new legal mechanisms to regulate use and ensure accountability. He also warned that if states engaged in drone attacks do not establish effective, independent, and impartial investigations of their actions, it might be necessary for the United Nations to do so. (Note: The UN investigation will examine 25 different cases of drone attacks, not all directed by the U.S. However, it remains the case that U.S. policy is a main focus of attention, particularly for China, Russia, and Pakistan, the three states that called for the investigation within the Human Rights Council).
On December 7th the Saïd Business School’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation hosted a seminar entitled “Protecting Civilians: Oxford and Oxfam working together on the ethics of war, weapons and humanitarian aid.” The seminar showcased two projects led by the Oxford Institute of Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) that engage with outside actors to leverage humanitarian ethics in humanitarian crises and armed conflicts.