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UK drone personnel could be liable for war crimes

July 17, 2018 at 1:26 pm

A two-year probe by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on drones claims that British military personnel could be prosecuted for murder and complicit in alleged war crimes, a report launched today reveals.

The inquiry – ‘The UK’s use of Armed Drones: Working with Partners’ – received 17 written evidence submissions and conducted six oral evidence sessions by experts in the field. Some 19 recommendations were put forward to “guarantee a solid foundation for UK drone policy and operations moving forward”.

The inquiry called upon the British government to immediately publish its “targeted killing” policy, just as the United States and Israel have done previously, but more importantly to establish “an independent scrutiny mechanism responsible to Parliament in the event that any UK drone (armed or unarmed) is used in an operation where lethal force is employed,” the report said.

Currently, all drone strikes involving civilian casualties and cases where British nationals have been killed go without any transparency or accountability.

The report raises concern that the ongoing uncertainty about government policy may leave front-line British personnel in considerable doubt about whether what they are being asked to do is lawful, therefore exposing them to the risk of criminal prosecution for murder or complicity in murder.

The UK’s military engagement in Syria and Iraq since 2014 against Daesh “raised some serious questions about the legality, efficacy, and strategic coherence” of the British targeted killing programme. “The APPG argues that there is a political and ethical imperative for the government to review and clarify its procedures for using drones and all the multi-national systems that back them up, lest ambiguities in the current position leave the UK dangerously exposed to legal challenges arising either from its own direct use of drones, or effective complicity in their use by others”, the report said.

Parliament’s concerns about the legality of the drone programme began in 2015, when a British drone targeted two British nationals, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin. The killings took place in Syria, at a time when military action was not mandated by the British Parliament. Rights Watch UK, a British human rights organisation working for a just and accountable security, requested the disclosure of the legal basis for targeting British citizens abroad.

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Top secret documents attained by the American news website, The Intercept, revealed that Menwith Hill Station, based in North Yorkshire in England, is being used to track and pass on intelligence information to the United States for drone strikes. Complicity in US drone strikes has raised questions over unlawful killings.

The UK is working with partners around the globe, sharing intelligence and collaborating on operational missions. Middle Eastern states are also involved in the killing programme, including Qatar.