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2018 | Amnesty International Report Deadly Assistance – The Role of European States in US Drone Strikes

Five years after the publication of Amnesty International’s report ‘’Will I be Next? US Drone Strikes in Pakistan”, Amnesty has released its follow up entitled “Deadly Assistance – The Role of European States in US Drone Strikes”.  The work focusses on assistance provided by the United Kingdom (UK), Germany, the Netherlands and Italy which ranges from intelligence sharing - used to locate and identify targets for US drone strikes, to operational support - such as assisting with communications for drone strikes by hosting critical infrastructure, or by allowing the USA to utilise bases on their territory for surveillance and intelligence operations.

Although there are no specific regional and international guidelines on the provision of assistance to US armed drone operations, assisting states do have certain obligations under international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Also international (human rights) courts and United Nations treaty bodies have stated that a State’s obligations to respect human rights (including the right to life) entails an obligation not to assist in violations of human rights by others, when it knows or should have known of the violations. In addition, Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (ARSIWA) sets out the conditions for State responsibility in case of assistance or complicity in a violation of international human rights or humanitarian law. When found responsible, a State assisting in drone strikes may be held liable for drone victims’ damages.

Chapters 5 to 8 of the report go on to outline the types of assistance that are being provided to the US drone programme by the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy and assesses those States’ potential legal responsibilities under international law. Here, the litigation initiatives of victims of US drone strikes against Germany and the Netherlands (the latter being financially supported by the Nuhanovic Foundation) are briefly addressed. In these civil suits, the victims purport that the respective States share responsibility for the drone bombings which were allegedly unlawful under international law. The work concludes that assessing these four States’ legal responsibility for their assistance provided is difficult due to the lack of transparency around the legal and policy standards applied by the US and around the relevant facts, including the number of casualties. Moreover, there is limited information available about the exact role is of these four European States in the US drone programme. These factors impair accountability, access to justice and effective remedies for the victims of these strikes.

The work recommends that the four States investigate, in line with their obligations under international law, all cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the State has provided assistance to a US drone strike that has resulted in unlawful killings and/or any civilian casualties and that they try persons suspected of being responsible for assisting in a US drone strike that has resulted in unlawful killings. The authors stop short of recommending that compensation or any other remedy be awarded by the European States for drone victims’ losses. The report does however call on the US to ensure that victims of drone strikes and their family members have effective access to remedies, and that the families of civilians killed or injured be compensated, even when investigations suggest that, particular civilian casualties did not result from violations of applicable international law.