The CSS Blog Network

International Law and the Use of Drones

Drone Predator; photo: RG1033/flickr

First being used for surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) were initially conceived in the early 1990s for reconnaissance and forward observation roles. However, by 2001, the United States started arming drones with missiles and using them in combat operations. Since then, more than 40 other states and entities are estimated to have acquired the drone technology, including Russia, China, Iran, and Israel.

The first known use of a drone to kill a particular individual occurred against Al- Qaeda’s Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan in November 2001. Later in November 2002, a suspected ‘lieutenant’ in Al-Qaeda was killed along with five other persons in a drone attack in Yemen, carried out by CIA personnel. In 2003, the UN special rapporteur concluded that the Yemen strike constituted a “clear case of extrajudicial killing”.

Within states, international human rights law prohibits governments from using excessive force against individual groups; governments may only resort to military force if an armed opposition involves significant force. The normal standards can be found in the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. Despite this clear law, US officials argue that because the 9/11 attacks involved significant force, the US can target and kill Al-Qaeda members and other suspected terrorists and militants without warning, wherever they are found. » More

This Week at the ISN…

Check out what's in store during week 33 on our editorial calendar, Photo: Eva Ekeblad/flickr

This week the ISN will feature the following content — and much more:

  • In Monday’s ISN Insights package, Dr Plamen Pantev, Professor of International Relations and Law at Sofia University, opines about the Macedonian government’s ongoing efforts to mold a modern national identity against the backdrop of the area’s ancient history.
  • International law and the use of drones is under examination in Tuesday’s ISN Special Feature.
  • Wednesday’s ISN Insights feature — courtesy of Samuel Novacich and Eliot Brockner — takes a closer look  at a Latin American paradox: seeming government gains against organized crime at the same time that criminal networks appear to be strengthening.
  • On Thursday, we’ll showcase an Upcoming Partner Event run by the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that explores the links between gender, conflict and water.
  • Friday’s ISN Podcast assesses Pakistan’s recovery one year after the devastating floods.

And check out last week’s special coverage here on: the Niger Delta’s resource curse; cartography and IR; military interventionism; OSINT; and India and power.

A ‘Complex Emergency’ in the Horn of Africa

Famine in Somalia. Source United Nations/flickr

Biafra, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia… the same story, the same heartbreaking pictures of children starving, and the same anger: These children are not starving because there is not enough food. They are starving because their governments – or whatever is left of them – have failed and are failing to handle this crisis.

The famine and refugee crisis in Somalia, said to be the result of the worst drought in 60 years has left the international community floundering to address it. The crisis is the result of a combination of a two-decade old civil war and the second famine in 20 years. In response Somalis are fleeing to Mogadishu or Kenyan refugee camps. Families are compelled to leave behind the weak and disabled – including babies – on the long walk through conflict and drought zones in search of a means of survival. Most Somalis head to the Dadaab camp in Kenya – the world’s largest refugee camp. It is seriously overcrowded – with an official capacity to hold 90,000 people, it currently hosts more than 420,000.

Many of those who manage to reach to the camp die waiting to enter, as there are endless lines at the registration offices. And even those who enter the camp face a new risk of violence: the local marauding gangs and criminals in the camp. Men are beaten and women raped. The Kenyan police say they do not have enough manpower to stop them. » More

Altruism: Chimpanzees 1, President Assad 0

Bananas and Bullets (Photos: Fernando Stankuns/flickr, left, Rudy Lara/flickr, right)

In a news report yesterday, the International Business Times outlined that an Emory University study has found that chimpanzees are actually “genuinely altruistic animals that can show unselfish concern for the welfare of others”. The experiment, in which chimpanzees had to decide whether or not to share banana slices with their neighbours in adjoining cages, observed that if given the opportunity, a chimpanzee will usually choose to act in a way that aids its fellow chimpanzees, rather than choose to act selfishly to receive an exclusive personal gain.

In another unrelated report yesterday, the BBC announced that the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, had ordered tanks to attack the north-western Syrian towns of Taftanaz, Sermin, and Binnish, with several citizens reportedly killed in the attacks. In addition, the report estimated that more than 1700 Syrians had been killed since the uprisings began in mid-March, and over 10,000 people had been arrested. It further outlined that in a statement addressing the current situation in his country, President Assad stipulated he would not relent in pursuing “terrorist groups”.

Consequently, when reading these two reports in succession, one cannot help but ask: if even a modest chimpanzee can act altruistically towards his fellow species,  how come Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to choose a course of action that focuses solely on his political self-preservation,  rather than the communal preservation of the people he governs?


OSINT: Two Cheers for the Public Domain in Counter Terrorism Financing

Connecting the dots. Photo: ©

The problem with Countering Terrorism Financing (CTF) today is not a lack of comprehensive measures on the global stage, but of developed international norms to support its regulatory framework.

Today, most CTF measures (e.g. the UN International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, or the Financial Action Task Force) perform merely ‘advisory functions’ and lack even the tenuous force of international law. Not only the enforcement but the adoption and implementation of global CTF is entirely up to states themselves.

In the ISN’s latest OSINT report we emphasized that despite all recent policy talk on the matter, the international community has been slow in building a global CTF body that resembles an international regime.*

A case in point: under UN resolution 1373, each country has the authority to freeze an entity’s financial assets. However, if these assets are located in the jurisdiction of another country, resolution 1373 only authorizes the inquiring government to call upon the other to cooperate. So, while the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs continues to freeze the assets of Kashmiri terrorist groups, there is nothing they can do, legally speaking, to ensure that the money is frozen in Pakistan as well.

» More

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