This website provides information about Professor Philip Alston’s work during his mandate as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (August 2004—July 2010). This site also documents the work of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions. The site contains all of the country mission and UN reports prepared by Alston during his mandate, as well as news related to extrajudicial killings from 2005-2010. For information on the work of the current Special Rapporteur, Professor Christof Heyns, please see: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/executions/index.htm
This site also contains the full text of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Handbook - a book containing detailed legal and policy analyses by Alston and the Project on Extrajudicial Executions. The Handbook organises into thematic chapters each of the issues the Special Rapporteur’s mandate covers, and contains sections clarifying the relevant law, analyzing gaps in the law, applying the law to common fact scenarios, setting out best practices, and surveying categories of unlawful killings around the world.
The handbook and the other information on this website are intended as a resource for academics, students, and practitioners workings in the field of human rights.
On January 26, 2010, wikileaks.org published more than 90,000 confidential US military documents dating from January 2004 through December 2009. These “war files” document missions carried out in Afghanistan by the US army, including by Special Forces units such as Task Force 373 (TF-373), set up to capture or kill top Taliban and al-Qaida leaders listed on a Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL). The UN Special Rapporteur has previously reported [Afghanistan report] on covert missions to capture/kill suspects in Afghanistan, as well as on the law applicable to targeted killings.
Interviews with Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions, on the implications of the wikileaks information, and the activities of TF 373, are available here and here.
Links to select articles addressing the leak and its relation to targeted killings by US Special Forces can be found below.
Afghanistan war logs: Task Force 373 – special forces hunting top Taliban Afghanistan war logs: Secret CIA paramilitaries' role in civilian deaths Afghanistan war logs: How US marines sanitised record of bloodbath Afghanistan war logs: as it happened Afghanistan war logs: How the IED became Taliban's weapon of choice
The New York Times
View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan
World BB News
Wikileaks: a new journal of the disasters in Afghanistan
The preliminary findings of the Special Rapporteur have received extensive press coverage in both national and international press. Links to select articles can be found below.
BBC: UN concerned about extrajudicial killings in Ecuador
AFP: UN Special Rapporteur reports sharp increase in killings and impunity in Ecuador
AP Latin America: UN Rapporteur amazed by impunity in Ecuador
Univisión: UN reports 30 murders in Ecuador’s border region with Colombia
Agencia EFE: UN Rapporteur calls the level of impunity for killings in Ecuador ‘scary’
Europa Press: UN Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions reports a high level of impunity in Ecuador
El Comercio: Bofetada de la ONU al Estado ; Editorial: Ecuador preocupa al relator de la ONU ; Artículo de opinión: Involución ; Artículo de opinión: Los incomprendidos
El Universo: Sicariato worries UN Rapporteur ; Entrevista a la asambleísta María Paula Romo: “Autoridades deben aceptar las falencias” ; Informe del relator confirma que el sicariato prolifera en el país ; La delincuencia y el desempleo trastocan la acogida del régimen
El Telégrafo: Cuestionan informe del relator de la ONU ; “No quisiera un informe manipulado”
Diario Hoy: Policía usa al sicariato para cubrir crímenes
El Expreso: Informe del relator queda registrado en la ONU, Fiscal dice que será archivado (REACCIONES)
Diario La Hora: Campea Impunity ; Fiscal responde a relator de la ONU (REACCIONES) ; Plan de seguridad no da resultados
Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater (now called “Xe Services”), in commenting on General Stanley McChrystal’s dismissal, recently stated in an interview with CNBC:
“I think one of the hardest things, for a guy like Gen. McChrystal, if he was getting complaints from his troops, it was very restrictive rules of engagement. Constant restraints on what they could do. I mean, you can’t drop a bomb from an airplane in Afghanistan without having a lawyer sign off on it. We’ve almost allowed lawyers to become what political officers were in the Soviet Union. The guys who can truly approve, and nix, anything a battlefield commander can do.”
In a December 2009 article, Jeremy Scahill in The Nation wrote about allegations that the private security firm Blackwater/Xe Services is involved in covert targeting operations by the CIA and the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC, the covert operation wing of the US military) against terror suspects in Pakistan. According to one of Scahill’s sources, “ the program [involving Blackwater/Xe Services] is so ‘compartmentalized’ that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.”
In another instance, a military intelligence source states:
The Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as "Qatar cubed," in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. "This is supposed to be the brave new world," he says. "This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it's meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It's strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don't have to deal with that because they're operating under a classified mandate."
According to sources quoted in the articles, the drone attacks in Pakistan with especially high civilian casualty rates are almost always carried out by the JSOC, which may be carrying out covert strikes in addition to the publicly unacknowledged CIA program. The allegations about JSOC operations, and Blackwater involvement, if true, further underscore the Special Rapporteur’s concerns regarding the US’s “expanding self-entitlement” to target individuals around the glob without adequate accountability. The Special Rapporteur has written about how the CIA targeted killing program’s being “shrouded in official secrecy” prevents an adequate inquiry into whether it complies with the laws of war in his recent report to the Human Rights Council.
The Columbia Tribune writes about the recent selection of Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri as a ground control station for unmanned drone missions. According to the Tribune:
The U.S. Air Force now has the capability to fly 42 Predator drone combat air patrol missions. Most of them are controlled by pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The secretary of defense asked the Air Force to increase its capacity to 65 missions. Whiteman will account for five of the new missions.
The article details technical specifications of the armed Predator drone, but also speaks of criticism of the expansion of the U.S.’s drone program. The Tribune notes the Special Rapporteur’s criticism, stating:
Philip Alston, a U.N. expert on extrajudicial killings, called for a halt to drone strikes, saying they only could be justified when capturing a target with non-lethal tactics is impossible. Alston worried about a “Playstation mentality” among remote operators in the United States given a license to kill.
The Special Rapporteur's complete analysis of targeted killing, by drones or otherwise, is available in his report on the subject to the Human Rights Council.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) issued a statement extensively referring to the Special Rapporteur's report on targeted killings.
The HRCP "asks the government to pay attention to the report’s recommendations, particularly with regard to transparency in accountability to investigate unlawful targeted killings. Terrorists not playing by rules does not justify governments casting those rules aside or reinterpreting them. The UN expert correctly points out that the credibility of any government’s claim that it is fighting to uphold the rule of law indeed depends on its willingness to disclose how it interprets and applies the law and the actions it takes when the law is broken."
As the Kenyan parliament considers whether to establish a new Independent Police Oversight Authority, a piece in Kenya’s Daily Nation urges the government to heed the Special Rapporteur’s recent report on report on police oversight mechanisms.
As the Daily Nation notes, “Unlawful killings by the police remain a problem in Kenya; they are historically protected by a culture of impunity that largely continues to this day.” The current police oversight board has no investigative powers of its own, which has thoroughly hampered its effectiveness, and, according to the Daily Nation, “relegated it to to the role of record-keeper, passing complaints on to the police and then, along with those who filed the complaint, sitting and waiting.”
Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur has recommended that the oversight board have investigative powers similar to those of the police. He has also recommended that the board’s members be appointed through a transparent and democratic process as occurs in South Africa. Currently, as the Daily Nation explains, “the sole authority to hire and fire Board members is the Minister for Internal Security,” which also reports exclusively to the Minister.
Finally, the news report notes the tenuous status of the current oversight board, established as it is through a Gazette notice by the Minister for Internal Security, “which means that it can be repealed just as easily.” To guarantee long-term security, any such agency must be set up by legislation, as the Special Rapporteur has suggested.
The New York Times reports on the killing of two radio journalists within twenty four hours of each other. Both journalists, the NY Times reports, were widely known for “searing commentaries on corruption.” The report describes the Philippines as “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists,” and describes the situation thus:
According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, 139 journalists and media workers, including drivers and crew members, have been slain in the Philippines since the toppling of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. That figure includes dozens of journalists who were among 57 people massacred last November in Maguindanao Province, in the south. Nearly 200 people, including 16 members of a powerful political clan, have been charged in those killings.
The Special Rapporteur wrote about violence against journalists in his 2008 report on the Philippines, noting at that time that “journalists are killed with increasing frequency” and “there is a lamentable degree of impunity for [their murders].”
Brazilian human rights minister Paulo Vannuchi told UN Radio his government is “able to recognize that there are human rights violations in the country.” Vannuchi, special secretary of the Special Secretariat for Human Rights of Brazil, was responding to the Special Rapporteur’s recent progress review on Brazil, which identifies ongoing illegal killings and “vigilante justice” by civil and military police.
The Special Rapporteur’s most recent review follows his mission two and a half years ago, in which he reported police executing innocent civilians while acting in the service of militias or death squads in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Pernambuco. Vannuchi welcomed the progress review, noting that despite recent federal-level reforms, abuse of lethal force by police “unfortunately happens in Brazil …” and that "… in general, none of the points mentioned by [the Special Rapporteur] seem to be without foundation of truth."
The Special Rapporteur visited Brazil in November 2007. His follow-up report, released in May, points out that despite recent government efforts at reform, extrajudicial killings by police and gangs are still widespread and committed with impunity.
The Sri Lanka Daily Mirror writes that the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston “has accused the Sri Lankan government of double standards for rejecting an international investigation over alleged war crimes in the island but backing a similar probe on Israel.” He has drawn ire from the Sri Lankan government for finding that the Sri Lankan reconciliation commission, instituted to deal with atrocities committed during Sri Lanka’s decades-long conflict with insurgents, is not mandated,n or properly equipped under international standards, for the critical task of securing accountability for violations of human rights and humanitarian law during the conflict.
In the Huffington Post, the executive director of Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) writes about the emerging trend of "warring parties' 'making amends' to civilians harmed in war. " Though parties to a conflict have no legal obligation to compensate civilians they lawfully harm, CIVIC's director characterises this as a "gap in international law," which CIVIC has focused on extensively. The piece points out how the Special Rapporteur, in his 2009 Afghanistan report and 2010 annual report, draws attention to the positive effects of compensating civilians harmed in war. As the Special Rapporteur points out, problems still remain in the administration and distribution of these compensatory payments. Another problem is the inconsistent state practice among the multinational forces in Afghanistan in offering such payments.
The New York Times reports that ten Ugandan troops were killed in the Central African Republic last month, reportedly while they were hunting for members of the rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. The chief of defence forces of Uganda has reportedly claimed the troops were killed by Sudanese militia men, though unnamed sources claim instead that the culprits were members of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The Special Rapporteur has written about the inter-border security crisis posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that routinely brutalizes civilians, in his 2009 report on the Central African Republic, his follow-up report on the Central African Republic, and most extensively in his report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In a joint statement, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders commended the decision to suspend the Congolese chief of police and the arrest of several suspects in relation to the murder of a prominent human rights activist last week. While welcoming these steps towards accountability for the crime, the Rapporteurs also "urged national authorities to invite independent forensic experts to assist in the investigation and ensure that any prosecutions that are brought are solidly supported by all available forensic and other evidence." The joint statement is also available in French.
Today, Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, released a statement calling for any Israeli inquiry into the flotilla incident to be set up in accordance with international standards. The Guardian reports on the Special Rapporteur's statement and on the incident itself, in which Israeli security forces boarded a Turkish ship that was part of a flotilla protesting the blockade of Gaza. The Israeli forces reportedly fired on passengers of the ship, claiming self-defense after coming under attack themselves, which the Guardian reports resulted in the deaths of nine people.
The Special Rapporteur has stated that for an inquiry into the flotilla incident to be credible, it must be independent of the government, it must be given full legal authority to investigate, and its final report must be made public. He also stated that it must be able to interview all key witnesses, including military personnel, and that it should have access to all video and other records of the incident, including those confiscated from civilians. His comments were based on conclusions drawn from his previous detailed study on the international standards relevant to inquiries. The study and the Special Rapporteur's statement are available below.
Once a close ally of Israel, Turkey recalled its ambassador following the flotilla incident, cancelled joint military exercises and said trade and defense deals worth billions of dollars would be reduced to a minimum.
Separately, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, said any inquiry set up by Israel to investigate the Gaza flotilla incident "must be given a genuine capacity to find the facts" or it would not be credible.
To comply with international standards, he said, such an inquiry would have to be independent of the government and have full legal authority to obtain direct access to all relevant evidence, including the military personnel involved.
Israel has fended off a UN demand for an international investigation, instead accepting a US proposal for an Israeli inquiry with the participation of outside observers.
The Special Rapporteur presented his report on targeted killings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 3 June 2010. In a press release about the report, the Special Rapporteur states, “The most prolific user of targeted killings today is the United States, which primarily uses drones for attacks,” and he continues, “Some 40 states already possess drone technology, and some already have, or are seeking, the capacity to fire missiles from them.” Accordingly, the “[R]ules being set today are going to govern the conduct of many States tomorrow.” The Special Rapporteur criticizes several aspects of the US’s targeted killing policy, including the lack of accountability inherent to the targeted drone killing program carried out by the CIA.
Among the issues addressed in the Special Rapporteur's report are: the legality of targeted killings under the laws of war, international human rights law, and the law applicable when States invoke their right to self-defence; the definition and scope of armed conflicts in which the laws of war apply; the definition of who may be targeted and killed, when, and by whom, in the context of armed conflict; the rules governing the amount of force that may be used; the legality of drone killings in particular, and the international law requirements of transparency and accountability.
The report has received widespread press coverage. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Guardian, Reuters, CNN and Associated Press reported on the Special Rapporteur’s findings. Subsequent reporting by the Associated Press and Christian Science Monitor also describes US officials' response to the Special Rapporteur's comments. The Global Mail, Voice of Russia and Democracy Now offer further reporting on the Special Rapporteur's findings. The targeted killings report was the subject of a segment of Fox News' O'Reilly Report. A letter to the Guardian and an article in Reason magazine also refer the Special Rapporteur's writing on targeted killings.
Marc Theissen, former speechwriter to George W. Bush, comments on the Special Rapporteur's report here and here.
On 9 June, Harper's magazine published an extensive question-and-answer piece with the Special Rapporteur concerning "drone wars." A CNN piece authored by researchers from the New America Foundation conducting a continuing study of drone attacks in Pakistan states that the accuracy of targeting operations in Pakistan (in terms of the proportion of terrorist suspect to innocent civilian deaths) has improved in the past two years.
Zimbabwe News reports on the Special Rapporteur’s election-related killings report and how the Special Rapporteur’s findings apply to Zimbabwe. The news piece notes that the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations coincide with those by civic groups in Zimbabwe calling for the establishment of an independent non-partisan commission to manage elections and for a “professionalisation” of the country’s security forces to restrain them from taking a partisan role in elections.
Voice of America News reports that in the wake of a coordinated demand by over 50 human rights groups for an independent probe into the killing of veteran human rights activist Floribert Chebeya, as well as the Special Rapporteur’s public statement that it was “very likely” that the government was involved in the death, the DRC national police chief has been suspended “to allow for a smooth inquiry” into the murder.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions presented his reports for 2009 and 2010 to the 14th Session of the UN Human Rights Council on 3-4 June 2010. These reports include country reports (Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Albania) and follow-up country reports (Brazil, Central African Republic) from the Special Rapporteur's fact-finding missions, as well as thematic reports covering election-related killings, police accountability, and targeted killings. The Special Rapporteur's statement is available, as is a video of his presentation, Government responses, and the Special Rapporteur's further response. The reports received significant worldwide attention, and coverage is collected in the News section of this website.
Annual Report - In his final annual report to the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Special Rapporteur Philip Alston assesses the mandate's key activities and working methods, provides a thematic review of the past six years, and identifies issues that would benefit from sustained research and analysis by a future mandate holder.
Communications Report - This report contains a comprehensive account of communications sent to Governments between 16 March 2009 and 15 March 2010, along with replies received between 1 May 2008 and 30 April 2010. It also contains responses received to communications that were sent in earlier years.
Colombia Report - The Special Rapporteur's report on his June 2009 fact-finding mission to Colombia examines the Colombian Government’s response to “false positivos” killings by military forces, as well as killings by former paramilitary groups and guerilla forces. A press release accompanying the report is available in English and Spanish. Press coverage related to the report can be found in the News section of this website.
Democratic Republic of the Congo Report - The Special Rapporteur's report on his October 2009 fact-finding mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo examines political killings; killings by rebels and the Congolese army in conflict areas; deaths in prisons; incidents of sexual violence leading to death; killings of accused “witches”; killings of human rights defenders and journalists; and vigilante killings. The report is accompanied by a press release. The report is also available in French. Press coverage related to the report can be found in the News section of this website.
Brazil Report - The follow-up report on Brazil analyses the progress the country has made in implementing the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur following his November 2007 mission, which addressed police killings, killings by militias and death squads, and gang activity within prisons. A press statement accompanying the report is available in English and Portuguese. Press coverage related to the report can be found in the News section of this website.
Central African Republic Report - The follow-up report on the Central African Republic analyses the progress the country has made in implementing the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur following his January 2008 mission, which addressed killings by bandits, armed groups, and the Chadian National Army, especially in the volatile North, as well as security sector reform to end impunity for violations by security forces.
Targeted Killings Report - The Special Rapporteur's report on targeted killings describes new policies adopted by a few States that permit the use of targeted killings, including in the territories of other States, and addresses the main legal issues that have arisen.
The report is accompanied by a press release. Press coverage related to the report can be found in the News section of this website.
Election-related Killings Report - This report adopts a definition of election-related killings, surveys the limited academic research on election-related violence and provides an overview of the perpetrators, victims, timing, motive, methods and effects of election-related killings. The Special Rapporteur also analyses the most significant types of election-related killings, considers the approach
of election monitors and concludes with specific recommendations.
Police Oversight Mechanisms Report The Special Rapporteur's report examines the role of external police oversight mechanisms in addressing the pervasive global problem of impunity for killings by the police. It examines obstacles to effective external oversight mechanisms and proposes guidelines for governments on the creation and operation of such mechanisms.
In his statement to the Human Rights Council on 3 June, the Special Rapporteur spoke of credible allegations that as many as 30,000 persons were killed in Sri Lanka in the closing months of the conflict within the country, and that grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law were committed. He found that new evidence warranted an independent international inquiry - which the Council had rejected a year ago - and renewed his call for one, Reuters reports.
Sri Lanka reacted strongly (see video of Sri Lankan representative's comments in the Third Plenary meeting on 3 June), calling the Special Rapporteur’s comment on that country's situation "reeking with bias," "completely unhelpful" and based on "unsubstantiated, uncorroborated hearsay" by parties looking to destabilize Sri Lanka.
Today the Special Rapporteur presented his report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he visited in October 2009. The report focused on atrocities against civilians committed by armed rebel groups as well as by the Congolese army itself. Alston’s investigations and his report also addressed political killings in Kinshasa and Bas Congo; deaths in prisons; killings of accused “witches”; killings of human rights defenders and journalists; and vigilante killings. The full report and accompanying press release are available below.
The Special Rapporteur notes that the major human rights violations he identified during his 2009 visit continue to plague the country. In regards to a particular rebel group responsible for some of the most grievous violence, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the Special Rapporteur states:
“During my mission, the Government told me that they had essentially run the LRA out of the country. However, my report made clear that this was not at all the case, and that the risk of further violence remained high. Subsequently, LRA attacks have risen: at least 400 have been killed, and hundreds have been abducted or had their lips or ears chopped off. This is a crisis, and it is still not receiving the urgent attention that is required. The Government and the UN must strengthen their military presence in Province Orientale. And the international community, and especially the countries in which the LRA continues to operate – Uganda, the Central African Republic, the DRC, and the Sudan – need to develop a strong regional military strategy to deal with the LRA.
In the context of a continued debate over whether to withdraw UN peacekeepers from Congo, the Special Rapporteur stated during his presentation that leaving Congo could lead to disaster for vulnerable civilians. As reported in the UAE National, the Special Rapporteur’s statement comes only days after “UN Security members acquiesced to demands from Congolese officials to withdraw peacekeepers.” Reportedly, the Security Council plans to move out 2,000 personnel from a force of around 20,000 by the end of the month.