The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has launched an investigation into drone strikes and will review resultant civilian casualties to determine whether the attacks constitute a war crime.
Ben Emmerson, a UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, formally launched the inquiry on Thursday, in response to requests from Russia, China and Pakistan.
A statement released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights states that the inquiry will provide a “critical examination of the factual evidence concerning civilian casualties”.
It also states that the inquiry ultimately intends to make recommendations to the UN General Assembly to prompt countries to “investigate into the lawfulness and proportionality of such attacks”.
“This is not an investigation into the conduct of any particular state. It’s an investigation into the consequence into this form of technology,” Emmerson told Al Jazeera.
“The reality is that the increasing availability of this technology […] makes it very likely that more states will be using this technology in the coming months and years and includes raising the spectre that non state organisations – organisations labelled as terrorist groups – could use the technology in retaliation,” he added.
He said that it was a “very serious and escalating situation” which must be addressed by the international community “urgently”.
At a press conference on Thursday in London, Emmerson said that the British government had already agreed to co-operate with the investigation and that he was “optimistic” that the US would do the same.
He also requested the US to release “before and after” videos of the drone strikes and internal reports of those killed, including civilians.
Emmerson’s team will conduct the inquiry in consultation with military experts and journalists from the UK, Yemen and Pakistan.
Chris Woods, a senior journalist at London-based The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) said “more than 400 US covert drone strikes have so far taken place in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia which have killed at least 3,000 people”.
In a twitter post from Emmerson’s press conference, Woods said that the “inquiry will study 25 drone strikes, where civilians [were] reported killed across Yemen, FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan], Somalia, Afghanistan and Gaza”.
“We believe more than 500 were likely to have been civilians [in those attacks]. The UN inquiry is important because it will focus on the key questions of the legality of such strikes, and the reported deaths of civilians,” he told Al Jazeera.
He added that TBIJ believes that there is not enough evidence to support the claims of some US officials who say that Pakistan secretly approves drone strikes.
Robert Densmore, editor of Defence Report magazine told Al Jazeera that the inquiry “is something that [needed] to happen to drive forward some more regulation”.
He said the inquiry could lay a framework to a potential UN convention to govern the use of drones – something similar to conventions in place for undetectable landmines and cluster ammunition.
“I think there could be enough multilateral pressure to convince the US that this would be something to pursue” he said.