The Drone Dialogues: New challenges for States on Armed Drones Use and Proliferation

October 21st, 2016
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The Drone Dialogues; New challenges for States on Armed Drones Use and Proliferation

    On 17 October 2016, at U N Headquarters in New York City, the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the NGO PAX held a side event during the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly First Committee on “New Challenges for States on Armed Drones Use and Proliferation”. H.E. Mr Henk Cor van der Kwast, the Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva moderated the panel alongside Alexandra Hiniker, PAX Representative for the United Nations.

    Amb. Van der Kwast began by stating the urgency felt within the Dutch delegation to focus on the use of armed drones, potential export controls being placed on unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the need for a global norm deterring their use. The Ambassador said there is a need to build upon the consensus declaration of 5 October 2016 regarding the use of strikes by armed UAVs and acknowledged the need to avoid duplicating the Wassenaar Arrangement. Amb. Van der Kwast also emphasized that Member States needed to tackle the problem of non-state actors and non-signatories of the Arrangement being involved in the transfer and sales of UAVs.

    Ms. Naureen Shah, Director, Security & Human Rights Programme, Amnesty International USA spoke of the United States Government’s use of drones. She noted that the Obama administration declassified the Presidential Policy Guidance for Drone use in August 2016 and has made a number of disclosures regarding the use of drones as a policy standard.

    Mr. Moorehead from Columbia Law School spoke of his work examining the legality of using armed drones, and the importance of transparency. He stated that transparency is important due to the current high level of secrecy surrounding armed drone use, and if there is no transparency then it is impossible to determine the legality of the use of armed drones. Mr. Moorehead proposed four measures for Member States to disclose for increasing transparency; the legal and policy criteria for using UAVs, acknowledge the authorization and initiation of a drone strike and report civilian and combatant casualties, the decision making process behind target selection and Member states should disclose what accountability and oversight measures are in place for internal review (i.e. best practice methods, disciplinaries, criminal investigations etc.) where necessary. These procedures could also be applied to monitoring the number of drone exports. Mr. Moorehead then concluded by stating that Member States should be aware that current international norms are being pushed by States actively using drones and not through consensus.

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(From Left to Right) Mr. Wim Zwijnenburg, (PAX for Peace Policy Advisor, Security & Disarmament); Ambassador H.E. Mr Henk Cor van der Kwast, (Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and the Ambassador for Disarmament); Alexandra Hiniker, (PAX for Peace representative to the United Nations); Alex Moorehead, (Director, Project on Counterterrorism, Armed Conflict and Human Rights at Columbia Law School) and Naureen Shah, (Director of Amnesty International USA’s Security & Human Rights Programme).

    Concluding the panel of experts, Mr. Zwijnenburg of PAX spoke of the increasing number of countries and non-state actors wanting to use both commercial and military drones. This, he inferred, highlights the need for the international community to establish norms and international laws on the use of drones. Mr. Zwijnenburg spoke of the opportunities within the First Committee for progress to be made on this issue. He highlighted the need for discussions on the implication for armed drone use by Member States, the necessary clarity to be provided by the international community for the legal interpretation of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law frameworks in relation to targeted killings through armed drones and the contributions to be provided on the important discussions to take place regarding arms export control for unmanned systems.


Drafted by Edward Hainsworth