NEW YORK // A leading human rights organisation has criticised the United States' increasing use of drone aircraft for the targeted killing of terrorism suspects overseas and questioned its legality.
Amnesty International, in its global review of human rights issues, said the US drone policy was shrouded in secrecy but the killings appeared to amount to extrajudicial executions that violate international rights laws.
"Our view is that the legal basis is quite unclear," said Salil Shetty, the London-based group's secretary general. "We have issues with how the United States defines the 'theater of war', which is a very broad definition which allows them a free rein to use drones and other weapons under a very wide set of circumstances."
In its annual review, Amnesty said "available information, limited by secrecy, indicated that US policy permitted extrajudicial executions in violation of international human rights law under the US's theory of a 'global war' against Al Qaeda and associated groups".
Drone strikes have risen under the US president, Barack Obama. According to the Long War Journal, which tracks such attacks, there were 35 strikes in Pakistan during 2008, the last year George W Bush was president. That number grew to 117 in 2010, then fell to 64 in 2011 and 46 last year.
The US is expected to increase its use of drones and other counterterrorism techniques as the war in Afghanistan winds to a close at the end of 2014 and the vast majority of US troops return home.
Elsewhere in its report, Amnesty warned that the plight of refugees and migrants fleeing wars and economic hardship is worsening in Europe as financial turmoil and austerity stoke bias against foreigners.
Amnesty documented serious problems "in Greece and Italy, where the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers has really been disgraceful", Mr Shetty said. He blamed tough economic times for the anti-foreigner attitudes.
"Certainly you could argue that austerity measures and economic crises have led to scapegoating of asylum seekers and people seeking a better life," he noted.
Also in its review, Amnesty criticised discrimination against dissidents, migrant labourers, women and religious minorities in the Gulf.
In particular, it said, women in some Gulf states were victims of legal discrimination and inadequately protected against domestic and other violence. Shiite Muslims also were targets of discrimination, it added.