Report: U.S. Seeking Commitments From Countries Buying Its Drones Limiting Their Use

Draft guidelines would include a commitment to respect human rights in their use.

Local Pakistani residents gather around a destroyed vehicle hit by a drone strike in which Afghan Taliban Chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was believed to be travelling in remote Balochistan, Pakistan, May 21, 2016.

The U.S. State Department is seeking to obtain a commitment from countries buying American military drones limiting how they are used and including a promise to respect human rights in connection with their use, the U.S.-based Defense News website reported last week.

Defense News reported that it had obtained a copy of a one-page statement of principles that the State Department is seeking to have countries purchasing "unmanned armed systems" to commit to. A State Department source confirmed the authenticity of the document to Defense News, but said it was a draft and not necessarily the final version.

The draft document spells out five principles, Defense News noted: "the 'applicability of international law' and human rights when using armed drones; a dedication to following existing arms control laws when considering the sale of armed unmanned systems; that sales of armed drone exports take 'into account the potential recipient country’s history regarding adherence to international obligations and commitments'; that countries who export unmanned strike systems follow 'appropriate transparency measures' when required; and a resolution to continue to 'ensure these capabilities are transferred and used responsibly by all States.'"

The language "is likely to fall well below what anti-drone advocates and the arms control community would like to see," Defense News said, but the State Department source called it "an important first step" towards creating drone export standards.

At the beginning of July, the White House released data on civilian deaths from drone "and other lethal air attacks" against terrorist suspects in non-war zones, acknowledging that between 64 and 116 civilians have been killed, although the locations were not disclosed. The New York Times reported at the time that most of the strikes were carried out "by drones in chaotic places like Libya, tribal Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, though a small number have involved traditional aircraft or cruise missiles."