McMaster Urged to Strengthen, Not Weaken, Use of Force Standards

Washington, D.C.Human Rights First today called on General H.R. McMaster, national security advisor to President Donald Trump, to strengthen, not weaken, existing standards for the use of force in counterterrorism operations. The call came in a joint letter from twelve human rights and civil liberties organizations in response to reports that the Trump Administration is considering weakening current policy constraints on the use of targeted killing and drone strikes outside of active warzones. The groups also expressed concern over increased reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and coalition forces. in addition to strengthening protections, the letter calls on General McMaster to prioritize transparency and accountability on an ongoing basis.

“Weakening existing protections would be a serious mistake. Weaker standards for use of force would put the United States at odds with its allies and local counterterrorism partners on the ground, and fuel the very terrorism that these strikes are meant to address,” said Human Rights First’s Rita Siemion.  “It is critical that the United States strengthen existing policies to bring its use of force practices into line with international law, to maximize the protection of civilians, and to set an example for other countries that are acquiring armed drones at an alarming rate.”

On May 22, 2013, President Obama signed Policy Guidance that places limits on the use of lethal force outside “areas of active hostilities” where the application of wartime rules is in question. The Policy Guidance aims to mitigate the array of diplomatic, legal, and strategic considerations that arise in such circumstances by limiting the use of lethal force in such areas to situations where: the targeted individual poses a continuing imminent threat to U.S. persons; capture and other means of addressing the threat are not feasible; and there is near certainty that no civilians will be harmed or killed if lethal force is used. Human Rights First notes that this policy already falls shorts of what is required by international human rights law in key respects and any further weakening would be a step in the wrong direction.

The coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Center for Civilians in Conflict, Center for Constitutional Rights, Coalition for Peace Action, Human Rights Clinic (Columbia Law School), Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Interfaith Network on Drone Warfare, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Open Society Foundations, and OpenTheGovernment, further urged the administration to improve transparency and accountability measures:

“Beyond strengthening existing protections, we urge this administration to prioritize transparency and accountability by implementing a consistent and effective investigation and redress policy across all relevant agencies, acknowledging all uses of lethal force, providing detailed strike and casualty information on an ongoing basis, disclosing all applicable legal and policy frameworks and U.S. interpretations, and providing the relevant Congressional committees with sufficient notification and information to enable them to carry out meaningful oversight.”


Published on June 1, 2017


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