Legal Remedies for Drone Victims: An Interview with Nuhanovic

The Nuhanovic Foundation (NF) was established in the Netherlands in 2011 to assist war victims who seek access to justice through research and litigation. Marjolein Vlieks, who leads the drone program of Nuhanovic, conducts research on the legal remedies for victims of drone strikes.

EFAD interviewed Marjolein about the organization’s experience with working on the issue.

How did you organization get involved with the issue of armed drones and why is this important for your organization objectives?

The Nuhanovic Foundation is part of a small but specialized network of lawyers, academics and organizations concerned with access to justice for war victims and obtaining war reparations through litigation. We directly support court cases on war reparations and criminal justice both at the national or international level. We focus on cases that we expect to set a precedent for other victims, and that have a link to the Netherlands – either because the Dutch state is involved or because suspects or victims are based in the Netherlands (universal jurisdiction).

Against this background, we support the Dutch lawyers representing two Somali drone victims in a civil lawsuit against the Dutch state for its alleged assistance in United States drone strikes. We are not an advocacy organization but provide legal advice to other NGO’s that focus on advocacy and lobbying, also on the issue of armed drones.

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?

Our support of litigation in the field of use of armed drones allows us to contribute to clarifying the legal framework applicable to the deployment of armed drones, in particular where it concerns the accountability of the parties that are directly or indirectly involved in the drone attacks. So we hope for a precedent setting court ruling in the Somali case.

In our efforts to contribute to developing and operationalising the legal standards for the benefit of redress for victims of armed drones, we also maintain a ‘drones’ section in our specialized and searchable legal database on the access to justice, the right to remedy and reparations. The feedback we receive justifies the conclusion that it has added value and thus, for us counts as a success in our drones work.

Lastly, we would consider our drones activities successful if we can contribute to setting the academic research agenda on the issue of reparation/accountability and armed drones by organising conferences and seminars.

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?

Assuming that an experience has higher impact than memos and reports, a Minister’s visit to drone affected areas and submersion in the scenery seems a good suggestion. Confront him/her with victims and their losses, ask him/her to step into these victims shoes and from there reflect on what justice would entail and how and where that could be found.

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 use of armed drones and assistance therein is a politically sensitive issue, as is the case with acknowledging legal responsibility for being involved in (alleged) unlawful drone strikes. This sensitivity impacts transparency. As far as we know, the Dutch government takes the stance that it has not assisted in unlawful drone strikes by sharing data with the United States.

To avoid future unlawful assistance in drone strikes, in 2016 the Dutch Review Committee for the Intelligence and Security Services recommended the Dutch government in 2016 to more explicitly take into account the possibility that providing information can unintentionally contribute to targeting processes involving the unlawful use of violence.

Additionally, the Committee recommended the Minister of Defence to authorise the provision of data that risks contributing to the use of force. Positively, under Dutch law civilians can sue the Dutch state for alleged unlawful acts, such as assisting in unlawful drone bombings, which is a venue for accountability and redress.


Date: 17 January 2019
Author: EFAD

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