Do we want to live in a country where we give the Prime Minister authority to sign off on the killing of British citizens? What danger did Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin present to the UK, or does this question not matter because they were Muslim extremists?
“Terrorists function outside the law. It is vitally important that the UK and its allies do not do so too.” This argument is made by the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches in the report titled Drones: Ethical Dilemmas in the Application of Military Force. http://jpit.uk/issues/peacemaking/#Drones It would appear from our correspondence with the Her Majesty’s Government (below) that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would support us on this.
Terrorism is terrorism; war is war.Sometimes acts of terrorism are carried out by parties to a recognised conflict. However they are not legitimate acts of war – on the contrary they constitute war crimes. If the Government conflates the two we run the risk of increasing the terrorist threat to the UK.
Terrorism is a deplorable crime. We expect our government to exercise all legal means to protect the UK from the threat of terrorism. It is also a long-standing principle of British justice that anyone accused of a crime has a right to a defence. It would appear to be entirely contrary to established norms under UK and international law for the intelligence services, Prime Minister and drone operatorsBased at RAF Waddington in Leicestershire, to act as judge, jury and executioner in the case of a British citizen.
If Governments such as our own engage in the targeted killing of individuals in the cause of pre-emptive self-defence, they imperil the existing consensus around international law. The existing consensus is guided by international agreed principles on human rights and International Humanitarian Law. The argument of self-defence used by David Cameron does not in itself justify the elimination of people who present a potential future threat to the UK.
Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings states that according to international human rights standards lethal action in self-defence ‘may not be done pre-emptively to prevent a threat from arising in the future … The necessity of the self-defence, in the well-known phrase, must be instant, overwhelming and leaving no choice of means, no moment of deliberation.’ The US drone strikes in Northern Pakistan and Yemen that have killed over 3,000 people, have led to confusion in our understanding on the circumstances in which governments are permitted to use lethal force against their own and other citizens.
In July 2012 church leaders sought clarification from the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on the legality of the use of drones in the targeted killing of members of terrorist organisations. In discussion and in subsequent correspondence we were provided with the following reassurances: –
“The backdrop to [the use of drone strikes] is a shared and dangerous threat from terrorists. We expect all states concerned to act in accordance with international law …”FCO correspondence of 4 September 2012
In Afghanistan “UK forces operate within the context of international humanitarian law (also referred to the Laws of Armed Conflict) and UK Rules of Engagement. … The Rules of Engagement for armed Remotely Piloted Air Systems [drones] are not different from that of our other manned platforms”.MoD correspondence of 4 September 2012
“Like any other weapon an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle must be deployed in combat operations in accordance with the Laws of Armed conflict (otherwise known as international humanitarian law, IHL) … You asked about the Government’s understanding of the term ‘armed conflict’. The Government’s position is that a situation of armed conflict exists when the legal and factual conditions prescribed by armed conflict are met.”
With respect to the efforts to ensure that those responsible for acts of terrorism are brought to justice by means that are consistent with international human rights standards, you may be interested in reading the FCO’s 2011 Annual Human Rights and Democracy Report. This sets out in more detail how the British Government promotes human rights around the world, including through its works to counter terrorism.Correspondence from the FCO, Nov 2012
If these assurances are to have any credibility the UK Government must now answer questions around the legality of using a conflict overseas as cover for the targeted killing of UK citizens in the name of self-defence.
Terrorists show scant respect for human life. Consequently our struggle against terrorism must reinforce the most solid of all British values – respect for the right to life. It is a value held dear by all mainstream faith groups in the UK. This can be abrogated only in very specific and exceptional circumstances in accordance with agreed principles. The killing of members of terrorist organisations runs the risks of turning criminals into soldiers. The IS recruitment campaign is best countered by defeating the logic and language of jihad and demonstrating that we live by our values of law and life.
|Sometimes acts of terrorism are carried out by parties to a recognised conflict. However they are not legitimate acts of war – on the contrary they constitute war crimes.
|Based at RAF Waddington in Leicestershire
|FCO correspondence of 4 September 2012
|MoD correspondence of 4 September 2012
|Correspondence from the FCO, Nov 2012