The UN Special Rapporteur’s report on armed drones and targeted killing

In the UK Defence Journal, George Allison reviews a new report on armed drones and targeted killing for the UN Human Rights Council produced by  Agnes Callamard (right), the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

She outlined recommendations to address this issue in the report she presented on July 10th at the Human Rights Council, warning: “The mere existence of armed drones does not justify their indiscriminate deployment. However, to date, there are no robust standards governing drones’ development, proliferation, export, or capability for use of force. No transparency. No effective oversight. No accountability”.

An article by Chris Cole points out that the report addresses what has now become a real problem here in the UK with the refusal of our government to detail where it is now deploying armed drones  – the absence of transparency and accountability (see for example: ‘Ministers refuse to reveal target of new RAF killer drone missions‘)

Agnes Callamard said that while deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects such as schools, hospitals and ambulances in Afghanistan, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria, Yemen and Libya show the tragic disregard of the most essential humanitarian principles, the consequences of targeted killings by armed drones have been relatively neglected by states and institutions.

In 2013, then Special Rapporteur Christoff Heyns warned that ‘the expansive use of armed drones by the first States to acquire them, if not challenged, can do structural damage to the cornerstones of international security and set precedents that undermine the protection of life across the globe in the longer term’ “.

Seven years later, Ms Callamard says that the world has now entered what has been called the “second drone age”

Against this backdrop the report seeks to update previous findings:

  • interrogating the reasons for drones’ proliferation and the legal implications of their promises;
  • questioning the legal bases upon which their use is founded and legitimized;
  • and identifying the mechanisms and institutions (or lack thereof) to regulate drones’ use and respond to targeted killings.

A vast array of State and non-State actors are now deploying ever more advanced drone technologies making their use an international security issue and raising key questions about protection of the right to life in conflicts and so-called peace situations.

For the first time, in January 2020, a State armed drone killed a high-level official of a foreign state on the territory of a third one – a significant development and an escalation.

Remains of General Soleimani’s vehicle, which was targeted in a US drone strike, at the Baghdad International Airport

The report contains findings applicable to all forms of targeted killings, including targeted killings carried out by conventional means – e.g. Special Operations Forces. General Soleimani’s targeted killing in January 2020 is analysed in Annex One.

It is the first known incident in which a State invoked self-defence as a justification for an attack against a State-actor, in the territory of another state, thus implicating the prohibition on the use of force in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. The report finds that by killing General Soleimani on Iraqi soil without first obtaining Iraq’s consent, the US violated the territorial integrity of Iraq.

The New York Times reports that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the U.S. rejected her report and “opinions”: “Ms. Callamard’s conclusions are spurious. The strike that killed Gen. Soleimani was in response to an escalating series of armed attacks in preceding months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and militias it supports on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East region.”

Fox News presents a videoed summary quoting the report and Pompeo’s reaction.

Agnes Callamard ends by saying that this heavy toll of unlawful deaths and arbitrary killings, reveals the serious failures of national and international institutions mandated to protect human rights, democracy, peace and security and makes a number of recommendations which may be read in the report here:





This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Airstrikes, Armed drones, Drone strikes, drones, Drones proliferate, Human rights, Iran, Libya, Palestine, Syria, UK, UN, US government, US-led coalition and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The UN Special Rapporteur’s report on armed drones and targeted killing

  1. Diana Schumacher says:

    This whole new development is very alarming, especially as legislation and accountability is nearly always well behind invention and sales or, in this case of drones, deployment. The government lack of transparency is equally disturbing – whatever happened to our Freedom of Information
    It seems that we are no longer living in a democracy despite all the U.K.’s efforts to defend democracy in other countries

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