‘Targeted Killings Beyond Borders: An International Law Perspective’ topic of Dean’s Distinguished Lecture on Thursday, Oct. 6

Photo of NYU Law Professor Philip Alston

NYU Law Professor Philip Alston

“Targeted Killings Beyond Borders: An International Law Perspective” is the topic of this fall’s Dean’s Distinguished Lecture that will feature Philip Alston, the John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University Law School.

The lecture will be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6, in Room 1302 of the Worrell Professional Center. The event is free and open to the public.

“Philip Alston is widely recognized as the leading human rights scholar in the world today,” says Wake Forest Law Professor John Knox, who teaches and writes about human rights, environmental protection, and international trade. “For 25 years, he has been at the forefront of every major development in the field, both as an academic and as an expert working with the United Nations.  In the latter role, his many accomplishments include helping to negotiate the Convention on the Rights of the Child; chairing the committee charged with oversight of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and strengthening the UN system for overseeing compliance with human rights norms.  For the last eight years, he has been the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in which capacity he has worked to prevent countries from engaging in these grave human rights abuses.  As the special rapporteur and as a scholar, he has strongly criticized the United States for its policy of using ‘targeted killings’ abroad.”

An expert on international law and international human rights, Alston most recently wrote, “The CIA and Targeted Killings Beyond Borders,” which is currently available on SSRN and forthcoming in the Harvard National Security Journal.

According to the abstract, the article focuses on the accountability of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in relation to targeted killings, under both United States law and international law.

“As the CIA, often in conjunction with Department of Defense (DOD) Special Operations forces, becomes more and more deeply involved in carrying out extraterritorial targeted killings both through kill/capture missions and drone-based missile strikes in a range of countries, the question of its compliance with the relevant legal standards becomes ever more urgent. Assertions by Obama administration officials, as well as by many scholars, that these operations comply with international standards are undermined by the total absence of any forms of credible transparency or verifiable accountability. The CIA’s internal control mechanisms, including its Inspector-General, have had no discernible impact; executive control mechanisms have either not been activated at all or have ignored the issue; congressional oversight has given a ‘free pass’ to the CIA in this area; judicial review has been effectively precluded; and external oversight has been reduced to media coverage which is all too often dependent on information leaked by the CIA itself. As a result, there is no meaningful domestic accountability for a burgeoning program of international killing. This in turn means that the United States cannot possibly satisfy its obligations under international law to ensure accountability for its use of lethal force, either under IHRL or IHL. The result is the steady undermining of the international rule of law, and the setting of legal precedents which will inevitably come back to haunt the United States before long when invoked by other states with highly problematic agendas.”

In 2010-11, Alston was the Sidley Austin Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. From 2004 to 2010 he was United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions and, in that capacity, undertook country missions to Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, the Philippines, Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan, the United States, Brazil, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Albania and Ecuador.  He was also a member of the United Nations Group of Experts on Darfur.

He was a member of the Independent International Commission on Kyrgzstan during  2010-11 as well.  He previously chaired the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from 1991 to 1998, and was its first Rapporteur (1987-90). He has also been Special Advisor to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals. He has published widely in the field of International Law and was Editor in Chief of the European Journal of International Law from 1996-2007.

Alston received degrees in Law and in Economics in his home country (Australia) and a JSD from Berkeley.