To mark the 10th anniversary of Drone Wars UK, we are holding an online conversation to examine the use of armed drones and where campaigners should be focusing their efforts over the coming years. We will be joined by experts who will address the issues of increasing proliferation, autonomy and civilian harm. We need you to be part of the conversation too!
The long delay to the release of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report showed all too clearly just how much control the government can wield over Parliament’s weak powers of scrutiny. While the ramification of this latest setback to parliament’s role of holding the executive to account are still being worked out, the consequences of a similar failure five years ago – when MPs attempted to investigate the use of drones by British forces for targeted killing – are now apparent. This should act as a salutary reminder of the need for MPs to constantly push to strengthen their oversight powers.
Five years ago today (21 August 2015), an RAF Reaper drone operating over Syria launched a missile at a vehicle travelling along a dusty road in Raqqa, killing its three occupants including the target of the strike, 21-year old Cardiff-born Reyaad Khan. The targeted killing caused a storm of controversy when then PM David Cameron reported it to parliament three weeks later. The government had not only for the first time launched a lethal strike in a country in which it was not at war, but had also defied a resolution supporting use of force in Iraq though specifically ruling it out in Syria. The government insisted that the operation was necessary as Khan was instigating and encouraging terror attacks in the UK. Read more →
The revelation comes as a new Freedom of Information (FoI) response reveals an increase in the number of UK airstrikes in Iraq over the past quarter. According to the FoI data, UK Reaper and Typhoon aircraft launched 32 airstrikes (or ‘Weapon Release Events’ as the MoD now describes them) against ISIS in April-June 2020. Not since the end of the battle to regain control of Mosul in 2017 has the UK launched that number of strikes in Iraq. There have been no UK airstrikes in Syria since July 2019. Read more →
The Trump administration announced on Friday (24 July) that it will breach the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) by unilaterally re-interpreting it in order to export armed drones. The US has tried without success over the past four years to persuade other signatories of the agreement including the UK, Canada, France and Germany to make changes to allow unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) to be exempt from the 1987 agreement. However, much to their annoyance, other countries have stood firm.
In essence, the MTCR, regulates missile, rockets and similar technology including drones that can travel at least 300km into two categories; Category I are those able to travel that distance and deliver a payload of 500-kilogram; Category II are those able to travel the distance but not carry a 500 kg payload. Signatories agree a ‘strong presumption of denial’ of exporting Category I systems. Read more →
Agnes Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has produced a new report on armed drones and targeted killing for the UN Human Rights Council. The report follows up and adds to two previous reports by her predecessors which we reported on at the time here (2010) and here (2014). While reading the full report is recommended, here is our summary and how it speaks to UK drone operations.
Focused on the use of armed drones in particular for targeted killings, the report lambasts the silence of States and international institutions in response to the damage being done by their increasing use:
“The vast majority of targeted killings by drones are subjected to little public scrutiny at either national or international levels. And yet, drone technologies and drone attacks generate fundamental challenges to international legal standards, the prohibition against arbitrary killings and the lawful limitations on permissible use of force, and the very institutions established to safeguard peace and security. [Para 1]
In this final post to mark our 10th birthday, I want to peer a little into the future, looking at what we are facing in relation to drone warfare in the coming years. Of course predicting the future is always a little foolish – perhaps especially so in the middle of a global pandemic – but four areas of work are already fairly clear: public accountability over the deployment of armed drones; the push to open UK skies to military drones; monitoring the horizontal and vertical proliferation of military drones and opposing the development of lethal autonomous weapons, aka ‘killer robots’. Read more →