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Noam Lubell is Reader in Law, University of Essex. He can be followed on Twitter @nlubell.
Not only is the debate over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) not going away, it appears to be consistently growing, with ever new examinations and reports. It tends to encompass – and sometimes unnecessarily conflate – a number of issues, including:
- The advantages, disadvantages and legality of the drone technology itself, e.g. should there be restrictions on remote controlled (or moving on to autonomous) methods of warfare.
- The manner in which the use of drones appears to further the concept of a ‘global battlefield’, and a ‘global war against Al-Qaida’ (or ‘war on terror’, take your pick).
- The ius ad bellum aspects in relation to drone strikes on the territory of another state.
- The adherence to the law of armed conflict – if and when it applies – in specific drone strikes, especially concerning the status of individuals killed by drone strikes, and rules on indiscriminate attacks and proportionality.
- Accountability for drone strikes and transparency over their use.
- The applicability of international human rights law to drone strikes. In the US this point has taken on an extra US-centric twist, with regard to constitutional law and powers, and the implications with regard to US citizens.
There are obvious links between these issues and they all affect each other in a myriad of ways, but any examination of the international law applicable to drone strikes must also understand that the above all need to be taken into account and given separate attention, before any attempt is made to assess the overall picture of legality. Clearly there’s no room to cover all the above in adequate detail in this one post, but I would like to briefly address the second point above, and the way it links to some of the other issues.
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