On Thursday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the investigations would focus on the rate of civilian casualties generated by the American drone campaign, and whether those casualties constituted human rights violations.
“The principle of distinction and proportionality and ensuring accountability for any failure to comply with international law is also difficult when drone attacks are conducted outside the military chain of command and beyond effective and transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control,” she said, according to local news reports.
When asked if American-led drone strikes in Pakistan can be considered a human rights violation, Pillay replied: “I see the indiscriminate killings and injuries of civilians in any circumstances as human rights violations.”
The White House has come under increasing fire for its use of unmanned drones to kill suspected high-level terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere.
Proponents of the drone strikes argue their use essentially decapitated the leadership of al Qaeda and has evolved into an indispensable part of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.
Last Tuesday, al Qaeda's No. 2 commander in Afghanistan Sakhr al-Taifi was killed in a drone strike in the eastern part of the country.
Another U.S. drone strike in Pakistan took out the terror group's overall second-in-command Abu Yahya al-Libi on Tuesday. The attack was the third such strike carried out by U.S. military and intelligence forces in Pakistan in as many days.
Despite such results, opponents of the drone strikes claim the attacks also end up injuring or killing civilians who happen to be in the vicinity of an airstrike.
Further, opponents allege new White House policies governing those attacks give the administration a loophole to claim significant drops in civilian casualties associated with the airstrikes.
Under the new rules, U.S. military and intelligence officials can launch airstrikes under the assumption any individual in or around a suspected terror target — whether it's a house, car or building — can be considered terrorist suspects.
If those individuals are killed during an American drone strike, those deaths can be counted as legitimate kills, even if there is no tangible proof those killed in an airstrike had any terrorist ties.
While seen as legitimate kills in the eyes of the White House, Pentagon and CIA, those civilian deaths caused by the airstrikes can be considered human rights violations in the eyes of the international community, according to Pillay.
“Because these attacks are indiscriminate it is very, very difficult to track the numbers of people who have been killed,” she said, suggesting the UN's "special rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions" be brought into Pakistan to investigate past strikes by U.S. military and intelligence forces.