MEPs adopt call for action on use of armed drones

Parliament was told that the US' "covert" drone war in Yemen "kills children, pregnant women and innocent Yemenis."

The EU has been urged to help stop US drone strikes in Yemen | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

30 Jun 2016

Speaking at a public hearing on Thursday, Radhya al-Mutwakel, Chair of Yemeni Human Rights Organisation Mwatana, said the programme is at least 15 years old and continues.

Al-Mutwakel said that the most recent strikes took place on 12 June, adding, "It kills children, pregnant women and innocent Yemenis going about their daily lives. It is unaccountable, ineffective, and counterproductive, and Europe is complicit."

"It needs to stop and the EU can help," said al-Mutwakel.


"Those in favour of drones praise them as precise and technologically advanced weapons that limit civilian harm. We, Yemenis, disagree. Drones do not bring peace or security. They bring death, destruction, suffering, lives lost and irreparably changed for generations.

"Our perception of drones is shaped by the images of burning bodies and vehicles, of children killed and injured, by the loss of our breadwinners, by the absence of peace, and by an overhead hovering."

Al-Mutwakel said, "The impact of these attacks is not limited to death and injuries, but also destroys the families who have lost their breadwinners, and affects the social and psychological state of the communities impacted. 

"A family member of one the victim told us that since the incident, her family lives in constant fear, they go to their farms in fear, and the children are afraid to go to school."

The debate on the use of drones in the fight against terrorism was organised by the human rights and security and defence subcommittees.

It follows a roundtable in Brussels on the same issue on Wednesday run by the European Forum on Armed Drones (EFAD),a civil society network of organisations working to promote human rights, respect for the rule of law, disarmament and conflict prevention.

The hearing heard, via video link, from Faisal Bin Ali Gaber, an engineer in Yemen, who gave a moving account of how he saw his close relatives killed by a US drone attack.

Further comment came from Jay Morse, Senior Advocate at the Centre for Civilians in Conflict and a former US army aviator.

Morse said, "I am optimistic that President Obama's promise to release an executive order better protecting civilians caught in conflicts around the world will be a positive step towards how and when states use force, but am equally concerned that it won't go far enough to protect civilians in future conflicts.

"The combination of the proliferation of drones and the increased likelihood that states use armed drones as a means of first response highlights the need for transparency in the rules."

Morse continued, "Civilians are disproportionately affected by armed drones. Without forces on the ground, states can too easily say they lack resources to properly investigate credible claims of civilian harm. As a result, the poorest people with the least amount of power have no voice. 

"Without real transparency in the targeting process, those who are in a position to advocate for victims are denied any meaningful opportunity to engage with governments on their behalf."

Another keynote speaker was Srdjan Civic, senior policy analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute, who told the meeting, "European countries are directly and indirectly involved in US drone strikes in Yemen and complicit in these extra-judicial killings. 

"It is reported that British intelligence played a crucial role in the CIA drone programme by finding and fixing targets. The US airbases in Germany and Italy are essential for the programme."

Civic called on the European institutions to "take a principled stance" on the use of armed drones. 

"We also call on these institutions to pressure European member states for more transparency and accountability. 

"They must assume their third-party responsibility in the US drone strikes. Germany and Italy should, for example, disclose information about the role of US airbases on their soil. 

"The UK, Netherlands, Denmark, among others, should disclose the safeguards in place to prevent the intelligence they share with the US being used for these unlawful targeted killings."

"The Obama administration is expected to release classified documents and civilian casualty statistics related to 15 years of secret drone operations. 

"Will European states follow suit? Will they finally disclose information related to their involvement in US drone operations? Are current and soon-to-be drone user states ready to articulate their policies on drone strikes inside and outside armed conflict?"

A call for action by the European Forum on Armed Drones was adopted at the meeting. 

It states, "The use of armed drones presents a number of legal, ethical and global peace and security challenges that make their increasing deployment a pressing cause for concern.

"We believe the growing proliferation and use of armed drones, including among European states, is a real danger to global peace, security and international law. We urge that the legal and ethical issues raised by their use, as well as the security consequences, be fully, publicly and democratically debated."

Civic added, "The European Parliament should reiterate their call for a common European position and for more transparency, oversight, and accountability in the use of armed drones in Yemen and beyond."

Elsewhere, Lisa Ling, former member of the US drone programme with access to DGS weapons system, said, "The growth of data collection through the distributed ground system is exponential. It is comparable to the exponential growth of data collection that was made possible by the internet. We need to have governance regulating this data collection."

"We can't fight terror with terror. For a child walking with his grandmother and hearing a drone clicking, it's scary to never know whether this drone is armed or not, whether it would kill his grandma right next to him. This is terror."


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