Laws of War?

So a report by the UK parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has warned that UK military personnel and ministers could face criminal charges in the event of targeted strikes against people located inside a third-party nation that the country is not at war with.

This impressive 110-page document, complete with handy flow charts to determine if a strike would be legal or not, makes great efforts to outline how and when such acts could/should be undertaken and the following accountability.

Flowchart 1.jpg

It gets more complex…

Flowchart 2 and 3.jpg

Section 5.30, under the ‘accountability’ header, reads as follows.

‘We recommend that the Government should establish clear independent accountability mechanisms in relation to the future use of lethal force abroad outside of armed conflict, capable of carrying out effective investigations into whether particular uses of lethal force were justified and lawful, including:

  • automatic referral to the ISC [the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament] of any such use of lethal force;
  • a revised Memorandum of Understanding between the Prime Minister and the ISC making clear that the Government accepts that the ISC has the power to consider intelligence-based military operations, and that the MoD must provide the ISC with all the relevant information about such an operation that the ISC needs to make its investigation effective;
  • access to independent legal advice rather than legal advice from the Government’s lawyers.’

There are many reservations, in public, private and parliament when it comes to targeted killings, or whatever euphemism is the current order of the day. However such actions are here to stay, as the new capabilities of unmanned systems offer an endurance and strike potential far beyond what has ever existed.

Maybe it’s worth asking how much information a government gives on special forces operations, or paramilitary activities and intelligence gathering? You’d likely be given a brusque ‘no comment’.

Could governments simply regard unmanned systems as being under the same operational umbrella as manned clandestine activities and say that any actions taken are done in the interests of national security?

It’s yet another case of legislation for the unmanned industry, a sector that has grown faster (militarily and commercially) than lawyers can write up the rules to govern their actions.

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