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.
ARMED DRONES AND HUMAN RIGHTS
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.
ARMED DRONES AND INTERNATIONAL LAW
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 RIGHT TO LIFE
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
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’S POSITION ON ARMED DRONES
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.