The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) is a Washington D.C. based NGO that has worked on behalf of civilians in conflict areas sinds 2003. In an interview for EFAD, we asked how they have been involved with the issues of armed drones and what they want to achieve through their work.
1. How did your organization get involved with the issue of armed drones and why is this important for your organization objectives?
CIVIC first got involved with the issue on the basis of a range of concerns stemming from the way the US government was using armed drones in a program of targeted killing in areas outside of armed conflict. We believed then, as we continue to believe, that the problematic legal basis (and the policy framework that tends to shroud the legal problems with a veil of legitimacy) for their use, the excessive secrecy of the program, and the overconfidence with which policymakers hold in their ability to avoid civilian casualties, created significant risks for civilians on the ground in the places where they are used. We also had a number of concerns that problematic US practice would set a dangerous precedent for other states using lethal force in a similar way. We highlighted our concerns in a report in 2013, and unfortunately, many of the issues we raised remain unaddressed.
2. What would count as a success in your work on drones for your organization? What is the impact you hope to achieve in the coming five years?
When the US limits the use of lethal force to circumstances where it operates clearly within well-defined parameters of international law, to include the due process and limitations on the use of lethal force required by international human rights law; when the US government is transparent about the ways in which targets are selected; and when the US ensures that civilian casualties are properly investigated and acknowledged; and when the US only sells armed drone technology to states that do the same, we will have been successful in our efforts. In the meantime, we will continue to work with our US and international coalition partners to ensure that international norms and standards are not further eroded by problematic state practice, in large part by pressing for greater public oversight of the US drones program. We will also continue to directly engage the Department of Defense in an effort to institutionalize or improve existing policies and practices related to the investigation, acknowledgement, and prevention of civilian harm in US, coalition, and partnered operations.
3. If you had one chance to educate/influence your Minister of Defense and/or Minister of Foreign Affairs on the deployment of armed drones, what would you do?
I think we would do our best to debunk commonly held myths and assumptions about the prevalence and likelihood of civilian harm that results from drones and other forms of “remote” warfare. I would also impress upon him (happens to be a him now) the policy implications and consequences of problematic US practices, and the potential benefits of US leadership on the drones issue. But most importantly, our mission is to highlight the human toll of war, and so we would most certainly attempt to make clear the human toll that drone strikes have taken in spite of the commonly-held view that they make “costless war” possible.