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Armed Drones Killing Human Rights?

29 September 2014

Last week, WILPF delivered a statement expressing extreme concern with the current use of armed drones and its damaging effects on human rights. The statement was delivered at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) during the panel discussion on the use of remotely piloted aircraft, or armed drones, in counter-terrorism and military operations.

WILPF welcomed the discussion and the work in the HRC, including the reports by Special Rapporteurs Ben Emmerson and Christoph Heyns and the other experts that participated in the panel.


The increased use of armed drones means that more states and possibly also non-state actors may seek to acquire and use these weapons. This is very concerning. Attacks with armed drones have led to a growing number of civilian deaths as well as the extrajudicial killing of suspected militants.

By referring to national security and the fight against terrorists, states renounce all responsibility for these killings, which creates a climate of impunity. This has raised questions about violations of international humanitarian law and the human right to life.

The use of armed drones has also created a climate of fear in affected communities caused by the indiscriminate and disproportionate drone strikes. The mere presence of drones has negatively impacted broader human rights, such as freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, access to education, and assistance to victims of drone strikes.


Previously, discussions on armed drones have largely focused on international humanitarian law, which applies in during international armed conflict. However, international human rights law applies at all times, including during armed conflict but not only.

While some states still think that armed drones is not a topic for human rights and questioned the HRC as the appropriate forum for these discussions, most states reiterated the importance of compliance with all international law. Many echoed Special Rapporteur Heyns’ remark that “the law should not follow drones, the drones should follow the law.”


The core human right discussed in this panel was the right to life. This right means that a state is only allowed to take someone’s life if that individual poses an imminent threat to the life of another and if other less lethal measures cannot be employed to protect life.

The current use of armed drones is extremely problematic in this context, as it is hard to establish the standards used to identify those who constitute a legal target.


Lack of transparency is one of the main concerns identified in WILPF’s statement, which noted that “based on available information it is difficult to see how the current use of drones is in compliance with international law (since) there is a shocking lack of transparency regarding the standards used to identify those who constitute a legal target as well as the number of civilians killed.”

The lawfulness of any given drone strike is almost impossible to assess due to the lack of transparency.

Despite independent assessments of high numbers of civilian casualties those using armed drones have not acknowledged that their strikes have resulted in any such casualties. This leaves victims and survivors unable even to be heard in court and without possibility of any justice, redress, or acknowledgement.

Without transparency there is also no way for the general public or the international community to assess the lawfulness or unlawfulness of these killings. Lack of transparency hinders accountability and prevention of international law violations.

It is therefore imperative that states increase transparency around targeting decisions and legal standards.


WILPF calls on states operating armed drones to release records of their targeting decisions and operations. All states operating armed drones must engage in comprehensive and accurate casualty investigations and recording efforts, in coordination with independent experts from the UN or other relevant international organisations.

WILPF further calls upon all states operating armed drones to comply with international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and law governing the constraint of force.

For more specific information on armed drones, you can also visit the visit the Reaching Critical Will website.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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