ICJ expert speaks in Human Rights Council plenary panel on armed drones

The ICJ’s Director of the International Law and Protection Programmes, Alex Conte, was today an expert member of a plenary panel of the UN Human Rights Council concerning the application of international law to the use of armed drones.

Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 25/22 (2014), the Council today convened a plenary panel on the application of international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law, to the use of remotely piloted aircraft, or armed drones, in counter-terrorism and military operations. The panel was moderated by Mr Dapo Akande from the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict. Panelists were: Mr. Alex Conte, ICJ Director of the International Law and Protection Programmes; Mr. Shahzad Akbar, Legal Director of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights; Mr. Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Christoph Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; and Ms. Pardiss Kebriaei, Senior Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

On the basis that the ICJ considers that the application of international law to the use of armed drones is too often misinterpreted or based on an incorrect point of departure, Alex Conte’s presentation focussed, amongst other issues, on the following key points:

  • That States have inappropriately used the war paradigm to contextualise counter-terrorism operations such that armed drones are not always used in situations of armed conflict within the meaning of international humanitarian law (IHL).
  • Where a situation does not rise to an armed conflict within the meaning of IHL, domestic law and international human rights law are the primary and often exclusive laws applicable to the use of armed drones.
  • Where a situation does rise to one of armed conflict, international human rights law remains applicable. IHL does not become the lex specials to the complete exclusion of international human rights law. While IHL is relevant in determining whether a killing is unlawful or arbitrary, customary international human rights law and the ICCPR remain applicable concerning the need for prompt, independent and effective investigations, criminal accountability and the need for effective remedies and reparation.
  • Proportionality requires: (a) a graduated response, calling for all measures to be exhausted before employing the use of deadly force (relevant within the law enforcement context as well as within the context of a non-international armed conflict); and (b) proportionality in effects, prohibiting excessive or otherwise disproportionate loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects.

Universal-HRC27-DronesPanel-ConceptNote-News-events-2014-eng (download the OHCHR concept note for this plenary panel)

Universal-HRC27-DronesPanel-DHCstatement-News-events-2014-eng (download the opening statement of the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights)