The Birmingham (UK) based Public Interest Lawyers have published a document that argues that the use of unmanned drones in Afghanistan is a contravention of international law.
The report’s authors, Phil Shiner and Dan Carey, argue that the use of drones inside a UN declared conflict zone is subjected to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). They argue that:
“The requirement to use ‘no more [force] than absolutely necessary’ in article 2(2) [of the European convention relating to when it is permissible to take life] places a significant restriction on drone use.
“Only when it is absolutely necessary to kill someone rather than arrest/disable them will the use of drones be lawful. And even then, drones may only be used for one of the purposes in article 2(2), most relevantly, in self-defence under 2(2)(c).
“Provided therefore that UK jurisdiction for the purposes of the ECHR is established, then the application of the ECHR would limit the use of drones solely to situations in which there is an immediate threat to life. This prevents the carrying out of ‘targeted killings’ and narrowly circumscribes their use even on ‘the battlefield’.”
“There is therefore a strong presumption that the UK’s drones programme is in breach of international law.”
Their document challenges the established legal defence of the RAF, set out in Ministry of Defence Joint Doctrine note 2/11 – The UK approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems. In particular, Chapter 5 of the document Moral, Legal and Ethical Issues, which sets out the legal argument for the use of unmanned systems.
The principle argument of the report’s author’s is that Article 2 (The right to life) of the ECHR applies during times of conflict and is already established in British case law in the case of Al Skeini where European Court judges found against the British government concerning the killing of civilians in Iraq.
The use of drones has been a controversial subject since their introduction into live operations. Their accuracy has been questioned, and their use as a tool for ‘kill lists’ has been widely criticised – depriving any suspect of due process to answer criminal claims against them.
It will be interesting to see if this legal argument is applied to drone use by other countries, such as the USA.
Drones are a horrible, indiscriminate weapon which resemble of V2 rockets used by Nazis in the Second World War. With other far more accurate technology available in times of conflict, the use of unmanned drones, or any other form of unmanned combat weapon, must be questioned.