(ANTIMEDIA) When is it acceptable for a state to take a life outside of armed conflict? Is assassinating someone in order to protect other lives justified? If so, who gets to decide what constitutes a threat? In order to clarify the answers, a parliamentary committee in the U.K. has called into question the government’s interpretation of the law when it comes to the targeted killings of suspected terrorists outside the scope of armed conflict.
A new report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has called for more accountability from the British government when it uses such force. However, campaigners claim the new recommendations risk legitimising extrajudicial killing. Although the inquiry was triggered by the RAF drone strike that targeted and killed 21-year-old Reyaad Khan in Syria last August, the JCHR focused on the wider legal issues surrounding the U.K’s targeted killing policy. They concluded the legal basis for the policy requires urgent clarification.
The U.K. government currently considers the use of drone attacks outside of armed conflict justified, as long as it complies with international law governing the use of force on the territory and the Law of War. However, the report highlighted a number of areas where the government’s legal basis for its own policy remains unclear, urging it to provide more clarity.
It also recommended the government establish its understanding of key concepts, such as what constitutes an “imminent threat” under international law. In addition, it stated the government must make clear its legal basis for contributing to the use of lethal force by other countries abroad, such as the U.S. Jennifer Gibson, a lawyer from Reprieve, called the report a wake-up call. She warned the U.K. risks “following the US down the slippery slope of kill lists and targeted killings.”
Chris Cole from Drone Wars U.K. also issued a word of caution. “We must be careful not to fall into the trap of putting in place policies and procedures that normalise and legitimise extrajudicial killing,” he said. “The UK must not follow the US down the path of adding suspects to a ‘kill list’ in order that they will be assassinated at the first opportunity in an ever-expanding, global battlefield.”
Claiming part of the problem is that the issue is being examined in legal terms, Cole pointed to additional serious ethical and security issues raised by the increased use of drone technology. Acknowledging the growing recognition that drones are lowering the threshold for the use of lethal force, he added:
“The constant presentation of targeted drone strikes as ‘precise’ and ‘pinpoint accurate’ has serious implications for the public’s understanding and debate of these issues.
“Due to the nature of today’s military interventions, few people in the UK have first-hand accounts of the impact on the ground, creating in the minds of many the idea that such strikes are clean, safe and even bloodless.”
Although Cole acknowledged the report is an important step in opening up the debate, he said there is a need for more serious debate on whether targeted killing should be happening at all.
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