It was a joy to meet many readers of this blog at Code Pink’s Drone Summit in Washington DC this weekend. Over 400 drone campaigners and researchers gathered together to learn, strategize and build the movement to challenge the growing use of armed drone. Cornell West kicked off the summit with an uncompromising, angry and forward-looking keynote speech that set the tone for the weekend.
The first day focused on information sharing with the an excellent panel sessions on the legality of drone warfare featuring Pardiss Kebriaeli of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Marjorie Cohn (who wrote about the gathering on Huffington Post) and the wonderful Mary Ellen O’Connell. I spoke on a panel about proliferation issues along with Israeli researcher Dalit Baum of Who Profits?, German drone campaigner Elsa Rassbach and Noel Sharkey of ICRAC and the Killer Robots campaign. Video of that session and others is available here
Elsa and Noel both brought some good news to the Summit. Elsa reported that the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and the Social Democrats – vying to form the next German government – included a commitment not to not purchase or develop armed drones during the next four years. Meanwhile Noel, hot foot from Geneva, reported that parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons agreed to convene in 2014 to discuss questions related to “lethal autonomous weapons systems” also known as fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots.” Both small, but important steps forward.
The most moving and inspiring session of the first day of the Summit, however, was the sharing from the delegation from Yemen. Both Faisal bin Ali Jaber and Entesar al Qadhi shared personal experience of how drone strikes were effecting ordinary people in Yemen. Faisal shared hauntingly about the death of his brother-in-law and nephew in a drone strike in August 2012 – read in more detail at The Dissenter). Baraa Shaiban of Reprieve moderated the session and also spoke of his own detention by British authorities recently.
The second day of the gathering focused on campaigning with excellent sessions on developing the movement; working internationally; pressuring governments; building around drone operating bases and manufacturing facilities; working with students and communicating the issues through art and poetry.
The gathering wasn’t just a meeting however. The event kicked off with a protest outside the White House with demonstrators then marching on General Atomics office, just a few minutes’ walk away. And on the days after, many US participants took part in a lobby of Congress while Code Pink and Reprieve also organised for Faisal bin Ali Jabara to brief White House National Security Council staffers.