10 June 2013 — Morning Star
Top lawyers concluded today that British drone attacks on Afghanistan are almost certainly illegal.
A 52-page legal opinion commissioned by Peacerights and published by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) reports that there is a strong presumption that Britain’s drone programme breaks international law.
Experts examined the available evidence – four acknowledged civilian deaths in a single strike, out of over 350 attacks, and no public explanation of targeting rules.
They compared it to the standards of international humanitarian law, which the government admits applies to drone attacks, and international human rights law, which it claims does not apply.
PIL concluded that “there is a strong probability” that Britain fell short of the “humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and humanity.”
The lawyers also said that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) applies to drone strikes and that victims would be covered under its right-to-life provision.
Because of that, drones could only be used in situations where “there is an immediate threat to life,” they wrote.
“This prevents the carrying out of ‘targeted killings’ and narrowly circumscribes their use even on ‘the battlefield’.”
The ECHR also requires the investigation of all deaths – both civilians and fighters – and PIL concluded that the government is also in breach of this obligation.
The lawyers also called on the government to release information on its “targeted killings” and drone attacks on Afghanistan, which are now conducted from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
PIL solicitor Phil Shiner said: “UK drones have killed over 350 Afghans yet the government claims to have only killed two ‘civilians’. These numbers don’t add up.
“It suggests that civilian casualties are not being investigated, and that drones are not a weapon of last resort but of first resort.
“This breaches humanitarian and human rights law standards.”
The government admitted in 2011 that four Afghan civilians had been killed in an RAF drone strike in Helmand province in March that year, but that is its only such admission to date.