New UN Special Rapporteur report on armed drones and targeted killing – its relevance for the UK

Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

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]

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New Report – In the Frame: UK media coverage of drone targeted killing

Click to open copy of report

Our new report looks at UK involvement in drone targeted killing and in particular at media coverage of British citizens killed in such strikes. It argues that the government’s refusal to discuss key details or policy issues around these operations has helped to curtail coverage, creating a climate where targeted killing has become normalised and accepted, eroding human rights norms.

In recent days, we have seen exactly how far the US is willing to take targeted killing by armed drone. The jump from targeting members of non-state groups classed as terrorists to the assassination of top military personnel of a state that US is not at war with may appear huge in terms of strategy and legality. Unfortunately, however, it is also inevitable. Drone Wars UK has consistently argued that drones – with their particular capabilities to stay airborne long periods, hovering over targets, able to track them undetected before firing ‘precision’ missiles – were always likely to be used in provocative ways that blur the boundary between war and peace and cause further destabilisation in international relations. Read more

2018: British armed drone operations reach a crossroads

In December 2017 the RAF announced that British Reaper drones had reached the significant milestone of flying 100,000 hours of combat operations. First deployed in Afghanistan in 2007 and, on operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since 2014, the UK’s Reapers have been continuously engaged in surveillance and strike operations for a decade. However, with the collapse of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, ten years of continuous drone operations should be coming to an end. But statements by British government ministers as well as senior military officers indicate that the UK wants its Reapers to continue to fly, seemingly indefinitely. Read more

The lawfulness of the drone strike against Sally Jones

By Max Brookman-Byrne, Lecturer in Law, University of LincolnReposted with permission.

Sally Jones, reportedly killed in US drone strike in June 2017

It was today revealed by various newspapers (for instance, the GuardianBBC and Mail) that Sally Jones, the so-called ‘White Widow’, has likely been killed by a targeted drone strike. Jones was described as being a member of ISIS and was apparently killed, along with her 12-year-old son, in June 2017 near the Iraq-Syria border.

As a researcher whose work for the last three and a bit years has been on the lawfulness of drone strikes, the question of whether this strike was lawful or not immediately came to mind. Jones was viewed as a member of ISIS and generally the media has uncritically reported her death, implying an assumption that the strike was lawful. But is this correct?

There is an armed conflict occurring in the situation in which Jones was Read more

Intelligence Committee Report on UK Drone Killing: Little Information. Few Answers. No Accountability.

Dominic Grieve: “profoundly dissapointed at the failure of the government to provide the relevant documents.”

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has published its report into the intelligence basis of the UK’s 2015 drone targeted killing of Reyaad Khan in Syria in August 2015.  The report has been heavily censored by the government before release and, due to the calling of a general election, the Committee says it cannot push back against the amount of redactions that have been imposed on it . Read more

PM must publish Intelligence Committee report on UK drone killings

Dominic Grieve MP, Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee

Soon after it had been re-constituted in the new parliament, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) issued  a statement in October 2015 saying that an investigation into the drone strikes in which British nationals were killed was an “immediate priority”.

Fifteen months later, in December 2016, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) put a short note on its website saying that it had handed over its report, UK Lethal Drone Strikes in Syria, to the Prime Minister after completing its inquiry and expected a redacted version would be published in the New Year.  Four months later we are still waiting. Read more