I am proud to announce that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones (which I Chair) successfully launched our Inquiry Report, ‘The UK’s use of armed drones: Working with partners’ at a high level event in Parliament on Tuesday 17 July, 2018.
The launch was moderated by Professor Michael Clarke, former director of the Royal United Services Institute, and Chair of the Inquiry, with Professor Dapo Akande, Co-Director of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC), acting as legal advisor.
The report and its recommendations were discussed by Dr. Agnès Callamard (UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions), Dr. William Boothby (former Deputy Director Legal Services, UK Royal Air Force), and Iona Craig (Investigative journalist and spokesperson for the Yemen Data Project).
Dr. Callamard issued an urgent warning that we are witnessing the erosion of the frameworks limiting the use of force and protecting civilians that had been built up after World War Two. Ongoing legal debates are now influencing the meaning and shape of warfare in the 21st century – with particular focus on where the battlefield starts; and where it ends.
Dr. Callamard argued that parliamentary oversight is crucial: “every time Parliament is forced to abdicate its responsibility, every time a court defers to government on the basis of national security without attempting to address the basis – we justify actions that are feeding extremely dangerous behaviours elsewhere in the world.”
Iona Craig agreed that the report was very timely: “There is growing evidence of surveillance drones and armed drones being used Yemen right now. If the US is so involved here in target acquisition, that begs the questions as to how involved the UK are.”
She commended the report for raising crucial questions about the precedents being set, explaining that the impacts of these are being borne out on the ground in Yemen. One of the impacts of this form of warfare is that there is a distinct lack of due process: “the UK government does not see itself as party to this conflict – but the people on the ground in Yemen do”… “I’ve met families of drone strike victims in Yemen who are still looking for justice – there is no due process. If their only recourse is to go to the courts in US or UK – that brings in UK personnel.”
Dr. Boothby outlined the legal frameworks at play when aiding and assisting partners, and how the UK and its personnel may be at legal risk. With this in mind, Dr. Boothby emphasised that the UK “must do all we can not to aid or assist violations”.
We noted concerns amongst Parliamentarians in the room about the lack of appropriate oversight on the UK’s military partnerships.
We hope that our report – and its recommendations – will serve to start a constructive discussion about how best to address these concerns over the new parliamentary session.