New Drone Report by UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights

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Following up on yesterday’s post on the Eye in the Sky, today the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights published an important new report on the UK’s resort to drone strikes. Most interestingly, the report contains a number of clarifications of the UK’s policy on drone strikes, on the basis of the evidence obtained by the Committee, especially in situations outside active armed conflict. One of the report’s conclusions is that the UK does, in fact, reserve the right to use drones outside armed conflict, and that such strikes would be governed by human rights law rather than the law of war, but that in limited circumstances such strikes could be lawful. The report also calls on the UK Government to respond with further clarifications. As a general matter the report is written clearly and the legal analysis is reasonably nuanced and rigorous.

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Aurel Sari says

May 10, 2016

I'm not sure about the report being that clear and rigorous in its legal analysis. The discussion about using lethal force ‘outside of armed conflict’ hinges on a failure to clearly distinguish between the existence of an armed conflict and a pre-existing conflict's geographical scope of application.
Actually, this lack of clarity is quite ironic. The report accuses the Defence Secretary of misunderstanding the applicable legal framework: supposedly, he takes the position that the law of armed conflict 'applies to the use of force abroad outside of armed conflict' (para 3.55). Obviously, the law of armed conflict cannot govern the use of lethal force in the absence of the existence of an armed conflict, as the Committee helpfully explains. But that is not the point. The question is whether the law of armed conflict governs the use of lethal force outside the geographical sphere of the 'hot battlefield' or the immediate zone of combat operations. Reading the report, the Government’s answer seems to be affirmative (though stopping short of accepting the ‘global war on terror’ position), while the Committee seems to answer in the negative. However, that does not prevent the Committee from accepting (correctly) that the use of force against Reeyad Khan in Syria formed part of a pre-existing NIAC. That is hardly consistent a position to take: how could the applicability of LOAC be confined to the immediate battlefield, but then extend to a single drone strike in a neighbouring country in which the UK, up until that strike, has not been involved in combat operations?

Jordan says

May 11, 2016

The conflict can migrate de facto. Further, the law of self- and collective self-defense should not simply be ignored.