[JURIST] Rights Watch (UK) [advocacy website] commenced a legal proceeding [press release] against the government on Tuesday, seeking the publication of legal advice the government claims provided justification for a Syrian drone strike that killed three, including two British citizens. Director of Rights Watch (UK) Yasmine Ahmen commented that there is currently insufficient public information to know if the drone strike was lawful, and “If the only oversight for these actions is internal confidential government legal advice, which the British public never gets to see, that is no oversight at all.” Ahmen notes the dangerous precedent that will be set if the government can “kill at will” without public accountability. To justify the attack, Prime Minister David Cameron [official Twitter] cited [Guardian report] Article 51 [text] of the UN charter, which guarantees “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.” Rights Watch (UK) and others are now questioning how broadly the government is defining “self-defense” for the purpose of justifying “lawful” drone strikes.
The use of drones [JURIST backgrounder] is controversial in both the international arena and in domestic circles. Last March the UN General Assembly passed a resolution [JURIST report] urging states to comply with international law in the use of armed drone strikes. UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson called for transparency and accountability [JURIST report] in the use of drones in counterterrorism operations in his report in October 2013. A joint Human Rights Watch and International Human Rights Clinic report [text, PDF] also raised possible threats to human rights, such as the right to life, in law enforcement situations. The US has been involved in numerous lawsuits surrounding drone use. In June the families of two Yemeni men killed by US drone strikes filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against the government, claiming they were wrongfully killed. In December 2010 a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST reports] challenging the Obama administration’s ability to conduct targeted killings [JURIST backgrounder], a challenge spurred because one subject of a targeted killing, al-Awlaki-Khan [JURIST news archive], was a dual US-Yemeni citizen.