Interview with Amnesty International: Armed Drones and Human Rights

In response to the rapid proliferation of armed drones during the last few years, Amnesty International has increasingly paid attention to this issue. Youssef Rahman is a Senior Political Affairs Officer at Amnesty International in the Netherlands. In an interview for EFAD, we asked Youssef about Amnesty’s work and future prospects on the issue of armed drones.

How did your organization get involved with the issue of armed drones? And why is this important for your organization’s objectives?

In 2013, Amnesty International published the report “Will I be Next?” US Drone Strikes in Pakistan”. This report focused on the drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas that were carried out by the United States between 2012 and 2013, which in some cases may have constituted war crimes or extrajudicial executions. This report got considerable (media) coverage, together with the fact that the use of drones has proliferated in the past years, Amnesty International has increasingly devoted attention to this issue. Indeed, the use of drones, either for surveillance or for so-called targeted killings, has become one of the most controversial human rights issues in the world.

What would counter as a success in your work on drones for your organization? What is the impact you hope to achieve in the coming five years?

The use of both armed and non-armed drones has increased. Whereas many drone strikes have been carried out in armed conflicts, armed drones have also increasingly been used as part of the counterterrorism/”global war” narrative, and therefore in areas outside of active hostilities. This is problematic, as this has consequences for the application of international humanitarian law.

Moreover, the current and previous administrations of the United States have dramatically expanded their lethal drone operations and in doing so, have relied heavily on assistance from many European states in the form of intelligence-sharing. In the report “Deadly Assistance: The Role of European States in US Drone Strikes, Amnesty International shows that the United States has used intelligence data supplied by, among others, the Netherlands for carrying out lethal drone strikes. Intelligence-sharing and surveillance also have severe consequences for the right to privacy.

All in all, the use of drones is characterized by a general climate of secrecy and a lack of transparency. Amnesty International does not oppose the use of armed drones in itself. However, it would consider it desirable if first and foremost, states would be more transparent around the use of both armed and non-armed drones and secondly, if they would bring the use of drones in line with international human rights law and humanitarian law.

To this end, Amnesty International has outlined several recommendations in its briefing “Key Principles on the Use and Transfer of Armed Drones”. In this briefing, Amnesty International calls upon states to, among others, implement robust oversight mechanisms on the used of armed drones, to ensure accountability, to put in place rigorous controls on transfers, and to establish regional and international standards regulating the use and transfer of armed drones.

If you had one chance to influence your Minister of Defense and/or Minister of Foreign Affairs on the deployment of armed drones, what would you do?

In its “Integrated International Security Strategy“, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that additional agreements need to be concluded regarding the use of armed drones. The Netherlands is in the process of purchasing a number of drones which, according to the government, will only be used for intelligence gathering, but in theory, could be armed. Therefore, I would like to ask the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to be more transparent regarding the potential armament of these drones in the future.

How do you experience working on this issue in the Netherlands?  And what is your take on the transparency situation of the Dutch government, regarding the use of armed drones and/or complicity?

The Dutch section of Amnesty International follows this subject from the sidelines. It is very much a debate amongst specialists. It would be good if it could arouse more public attention, but this is difficult to achieve.

In my opinion, The Netherlands have a rather well functioning accountability mechanism in place. The Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services published a report on this mechanism and made several recommendations for improvement. All the recommendations have been adopted by the Ministry of Defense, so a more robust monitoring mechanism is in place now. It would be a step forward if other states adopted a similar mechanism.


Date: January 30, 2019
Author: EFAD

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