RAF Reaper

Today, the European Parliament (EP) passed a recommendation on armed drones to the European Council, on the occasion of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly. The recommendation, passed by the EP’s Committee of Foreign Affairs with 29 in favor, 9 against, and 20 abstentions, particularly emphasizes the need for armed drones to be used in accordance with international law, and it asks the Council to starts pursuing this in international fora. The relevant text reads as follows:

“To pay special attention to technological progress in the field of the weaponisation of robotics and, in particular, on armed robots and drones and their conformity with international law; to establish a legal framework on drones and armed robots in line with existing international humanitarian law to prevent this technology from being misused in illegal activities by state and non-state actors; to promote the start of effective negotiations on the prohibition of drones and armed robots which enable strikes to be carried out without human intervention; to promote a UN-based legal framework which strictly stipulates that the use of armed drones has to respect international humanitarian and human rights law; to strongly condemn the widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law; to call for greater protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in every dimension of their expression, including in the context of new technologies; to work towards an international ban on weapon systems that lack human control over the use of force as requested by Parliament on various occasions and, in preparation of relevant meetings at UN level, to urgently develop and adopt a common position on autonomous weapon systems and to speak at relevant fora with one voice and act accordingly.”


The European Parliament’s position on armed drones and international law is a blurry one. For example, earlier this year the EP turned down a recommendation to tie international human rights law to the EU’s own development of armed drones. However, in 2014, the EP passed a resolution urging the EU to develop policy responses that uphold human rights and international humanitarian law, and called on the Council to adopt a EU Common Position on the use of armed drones.

In light of the ways in which drones are used, the renewed EP’s effort to address the ethical and legal challenges at the UN level is a welcome one.

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