Editors’ note: The use of armed drones is one of the pressing international legal issues currently facing the UK; we are pleased to post the following note by Dapo Akande, which originally appeared on EJIL:Talk!
On 16 March, I had the pleasure and honour of delivering the International and Comparative Law Quarterly’s Annual Lecture for 2017 together with Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne. Our lecture was based on an article – “International Legal Framework Regulating Armed Drones” – that we co-authored with Professor Christof Heyns and Dr Thompson Chengeta which was published in Volume 65 (2016) of the ICLQ. The article arose out of a project to support Christof’s work in his capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. We began the collaboration in the summer of 2013 in the lead up to Christof preparing a report for the 68th session of UN General Assembly on “Armed Drones and the Right to Life”. The project commenced with an expert workshop organized by the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations and has concluded with this article which is an expanded version of the UN GA report.
As the abstract of the article sets out:
This article provides a holistic examination of the international legal frameworks which regulate targeted killings by drones. The article argues that for a particular drone strike to be lawful, it must satisfy the legal requirements under all applicable international legal regimes, namely: the law regulating the use of force (ius ad bellum); international humanitarian law and international human rights law. It is argued that the legality of a drone strike under the ius ad bellum does not preclude the wrongfulness of that strike under international humanitarian law or international human rights law, and that since those latter obligations are owed to individuals, one State cannot consent to their violation by another State. The article considers the important legal challenges that the use of armed drones poses under each of the three legal frameworks mentioned above. It considers the law relating to the use of force by States against non-State groups abroad. This part examines the principles of self-defence and consent, in so far as they may be relied upon to justify targeted killings abroad. The article then turns to some of the key controversies in the application of international humanitarian law to drone strikes. It examines the threshold for non-international armed conflicts, the possibility of a global non-international armed conflict and the question of who may be targeted in a non-international armed conflict. The final substantive section of the article considers the nature and application of the right to life in armed conflict, as well as the extraterritorial application of that right particularly in territory not controlled by the State conducting the strike.
The ICLQ and Cambridge University Press have kindly made the article free to access here from now until the end of April. Take a look to see what you think. As indicated by the abstract, the piece is wide-ranging and seeks to cover a lot of ground though much more can be said about each of the individual areas that we address.
In other drones related news, I have recently been appointed as a legal advisor to an Inquiry by the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones (APPG) into the emerging technologies of drones and the ways in which the UK works with allies with regard to use of armed drones. Under its terms of reference, the inquiry will make recommendations to ensure appropriate levels of transparency and accountability with regard to the use of armed drones. The APPG on Drones inquiry aims to build on the 2016 report of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on “The Government’s policy on the use of drones for targeted killing”. The APPG inquiry panel invites written submissions on all aspects of its terms of reference. The deadline for written submissions is next Friday 31 March 2017. Submissions may be made here.