GENEVA (AFP/Reuters) - A UN expert on Tuesday urged Washington to clarify its rules on hunting Taliban and other suspects amid a ‘dramatic increase’ in the use of drone attacks.

The US government has carried out targeted killings in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen in raids and airstrikes and used unmanned drones, a report by investigator Christof Heyns said.

“The Special Rapporteur reiterates his predecessor’s recommendation that the US government specify the bases for decisions to kill rather than capture ‘human targets’ and whether the state in which the killing takes place has given consent,” said Heyns. “Human rights law requires that every effort be made to arrest a suspect, in line with the “principles of necessity and proportionality on the use of force”, the investigator said.

In the document Heyns, special rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, provides an update on steps taken by the United States to implement the recommendations of a 2009 report. The 47-member Geneva forum is to hold a debate later on Tuesday.

The US military has conducted drone attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, in addition to conventional raids and air strikes, according to Heyns, a South African jurist serving in the independent post.

“Disclosure of these killings is critical to ensure accountability, justice and reparation for victims or their families,” he said in a 28-page report.

“No information has been made available on substantial changes to procedures ... to ensure that strikes targeting Taliban fighters were based on reliable information and did not cause unnecessary suffering and damage to the civilian population,” he said. “The Special Rapporteur again requests the government to clarify the rules that it considers to cover targeted killings,” the report adds.

About 300 drone strikes have been carried out in Pakistan since June 2004, according to the document. It cited figures from the non-governmental Pakistan Human Rights Commission which said that US strikes were responsible for at least 957 deaths there in 2010.

“Although figures vary widely with regard to drone attack estimates, all studies concur on one important point: there has been a dramatic increase in their use over the past three years,” said the report.

“While these attacks are directed at individuals believed to be leaders or active members of al Qaeda or the Taliban, in the context of armed conflict (eg in Afghanistan), in other instances, civilians have allegedly also perished in the attacks in regions where it is unclear whether there was an armed conflict or not (eg in Pakistan),” he said.

“The (US) government should clarify the procedures in place to ensure that any targeted killing complies with international humanitarian law and human rights and indicate the measures or strategies applied to prevent casualties, as well as the measures in place to provide prompt, thorough, effective and independent public investigation of alleged violations.”

“The Special Rapporteur is seriously concerned that the practice of targeted killing could set a dangerous precedent, in that any government could, under the cover of counter-terrorism imperatives, decide to target and kill an individual on the territory of any state if it considers that said individual constitutes a threat,” the report said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week defended Washington’s use of drone strikes, days after one killed one of al Qaeda’s most powerful figures in Pakistan, Libyan-born Abu Yahya al-Libi.

Pakistani Ambassador Zamir Akram took the floor in Monday’s opening session to say that his country consistently maintained that the use of drones was illegal and violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, “not to mention being counter-productive”. “Thousands of innocent people, including women and children, have been murdered in these indiscriminate attacks,” he said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who made an official visit to Pakistan this month, said in a speech on Monday it was “unclear that all persons targeted are combatants or directly participating in hostilities”.

States had an international obligation to ensure that attacks comply with international law and to conduct transparent, credible inquiries, she added.