UN to Probe Drone Attacks by Israel, United States and Britain

The United Nations is set to investigate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for targeted killings by Israel, the United States and Britain. Unlike its two allies, Israel is not expected to cooperate with the probe.

Heading the investigation, which will address 25 cases of UAV attacks, is British lawyer Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights.

The United Nations launched the probe following pressure by Russia, China and Pakistan. Over the next few months evidence will be collected and testimony heard in a number of countries with the aim of submitting a report to the UN secretary-general and the General Assembly in October.

The UAV attacks to be investigated took place against militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Gaza Strip. Emmerson said in a statement that it is "imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirements of international law, including international human rights law, international humanitarian law (or the law of war as it used to be called ), and international refugee law."

According to foreign sources, Israel uses a number of types of UAVs for targeted killings, particularly in the Gaza Strip. Israel does not admit that it uses UAVs for offensive operations - one reason it will not cooperate with the investigation.

Moreover, Israel has not cooperated for several months with any UN human rights investigations after the Human Rights Council announced it would set up an international committee to investigate West Bank settlements.

Meanwhile, Israel is expected to boycott a special hearing to take place on January 29 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on the state of human rights in Israel. The hearing is being held as part of the Universal Periodic Review, a process that takes place once every four years for every country in the world.

According to a senior Foreign Ministry source, Israel is boycotting the hearing as part of its decision to cut ties with the Human Rights Council. In recent weeks the United States has put heavy pressure on Israel to reverse its decision and appear at the hearing.

Tough talks were held two weeks ago in Washington on the matter between senior State Department officials and the head of the Foreign Ministry's department for foreign organizations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar.

The U.S. assistant secretary of state for foreign organizations, Esther Brimmer, and the assistant secretary of state for human rights, Michael Posner, told Leshno-Yaar that Israel's boycott of the hearing would be the first time a Western country had stayed away from a hearing.

The Americans said the Israeli absence would give countries like Iran and Syria an excuse to boycott the process as well. Senior State Department officials also told Leshno-Yaar that despite Israel's justified claims against the UN Human Rights Council, a boycott was not the right way to air these grievances and would harm Israel's image around the world.

According to the U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, "We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation." She said she hoped a solution would be found.

Having been unable to persuade Israel to change its mind, the United States is now attempting to "save Israel from itself" and is working to prevent the boycott. Along with Poland, the current president of the Human Rights Council, the Americans want to postpone the week-long hearing for a few months in the hope that Israel will change its position. But Muslim countries on the council such as Iran and Pakistan will have to agree to the postponement.

The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, declined to comment on the hearing and the UN probe.