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  • U.S. airmen prepare a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it leaves on a mission at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, March 9, 2016.

    U.S. airmen prepare a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it leaves on a mission at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, March 9, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 October 2016

While the U.S. initiated a 45-country declaration on drone use, its use of drones has killed an increasing number of civilians around the world.

On the same day that human rights groups called for an investigation into 10 U.S. drone strikes which reportedly killed civilians, the U.S. and 44 other countries issued a joint declaration on the use and export of deadly unmanned drones Wednesday.

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The joint declaration named the “Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)” aims to establish an international consensus that “the use of armed strike-enabled UAVs is subject to international law, including both the law of armed conflict and international human rights law.”

It was backed by 45 states, including stalwart U.S. allies like the U.K. and Australia. In Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Uruguay backed the declaration, as well as a number of others from Europe, Asia and Africa. Notable omissions included France, Brazil, Israel, China, Russia, India and Pakistan.

Earlier Wednesday, Reprieve and 11 other human rights organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama requesting he fulfill the terms of his July 1 Executive Order on drone killing by investigating allegations of civilian deaths.

"The Obama Administration must investigate mistakes in the drone program, keep an accurate count of civilian deaths and be publicly accountable," said Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve. "That process must start now."

The declaration doesn't address civilian deaths. What it does do is call for a commitment “to the responsible export” of drones and “acknowledging the benefits of transparency.”

“Higher standards on drone exports and use are desirable and needed, but this joint declaration doesn’t go far enough to ensure that those standards actually set that bar high enough,” she Rachel Stohl, an analyst with the Stimson Center, about the declaration Tuesday. “If standards are low, they provide a blank check to governments to act with impunity and claim they have acted responsibility.”

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The United States regularly uses drones to attack the Islamic State group, al-Qaida and other militant groups in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries. Recent reports have also claimed that the U.S. military plans to build a drone base in Niger, in southwestern Africa.

Obama’s administration has been heavily criticized for its increasing use of drones and monitoring organizations say that the U.S. is vastly underestimating the death toll from drone attacks, which have frequently killed civilians and missed designated targets.

In July, Obama claimed that as many as 116 civilians were accidentally killed by U.S. drones. But civilian deaths are likely to have exceeded 1,000, according to Reprieve.

Ironically, the State Department’s declaration said that “misuse of armed or strike-enabled UAVs could fuel conflict and instability, and facilitate terrorism and organized crime, the international community must take appropriate transparency measures to ensure the responsible export and subsequent use of these systems."

States that signed up to Wednesday’s agreement will meet again next year to work out a more comprehensive set of rules.

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