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2016 | The International Law Framework Regulating The Use Of Armed Drones, by Heyns, Akande, Hill-Cawthorne and Chengeta, International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 65 2016

This article sets out the international legal frameworks that are applicable to targeted killings by drones, namely the law regulating the use of force (ius ad bellum), international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). It considers the requirements that must be met under these three bodies of law for a drone strike to be lawful, and addresses legal challenges arising from such strikes.

Legal questions that arise in applying ius ad bellum rules to the use of armed drones by states include whether the attack was an act of self-defence, and whether the state on whose territory the attack was made had consented to the use of force on its territory. Under IHL, these issues are related to the threshold for a non-international armed conflict, and more specifically to the question of who may be lawfully targeted in such a conflict, and whether there has or has not been compliance with the principle of proportionality. With regard to the latter, the authors find that drones strikes form a risk to the civilian population. The legal challenges addressed under IHRL range from the application of IHRL in armed conflict situations to the question of whether states can be held accountable for their extraterritorial drone strike actions.

Of interest to our area of focus, is section E (p. 817) addressing the issue of accountability and transparency for violations of IHL and IHRL. The article underscores that the procedural requirements of both of these bodies of law, oblige States to investigate alleged breaches of their rules and to punish those responsible for violations. Access to information is therefore essential. This means that transparency is needed about e.g. the criteria for targeting, the authority that approved the killings, and how oversight is maintained. International Human Rights Law provides that victims of such attacks have a right of access to information related to alleged violation of their rights and to the relevant investigations and, in the case of unlawful drone strikes, have a right to reparations (p. 818).

The work concludes that the international community urgently needs greater consensus on the interpretation of international law when deploying armed drones and advocates for enhanced accountability and transparency surrounding drone operations.