Armed Drones: The Need for an International, Interdisciplinary Dialogue

At the request of the largest Dutch governing political party, Researcher Jill Coster van Voorhout briefed the Foreign Affairs Committee at the parliamentary premises on armed drones and international law. During this off-the-record meeting, she called for an international and interdisciplinary dialogue to achieve consensus about the use of armed drones that is compliant with international law, specifically international humanitarian law and its principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.

After problematizing the lack of sufficient robust evidence about drone strikes, she questioned the reliability of several conclusions yet drawn and expressed her concern about civilian harm. Though it is often assumed that (improved) technology ensures (increased) specificity, reportedly drones cause thrice more civilian casualties than air strikes. Proper inferences about civilian harm remain complicated, due to underreporting and unreliability of the sources, at least. Hence, she repeated Special Rapporteur Emmerson’s call for transparency and accountability.

More specifically, she underscored the importance for users of drones to publicly disclose their standards and criteria, and guarantee and demonstrate that their use in operations abroad comply with international law. She also stressed the importance of meaningful oversight, judicial review and remedies to victims – all essential for the rule of law. Finally, she emphasized the need for international and national inquiries into civilian harm, which should also facilitate the provision of remedies.

Guided by the list of questions posed by Special Rapporteur Emmerson and helpful responses thereto, the dialogue should include the EU, NATO and the international community at large. Issues of the (nearby) future cannot be overlooked, such as the increase of asymmetrical armed conflict and non-state actors involved, as well as their potential (future) possession of drones.

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