Drone Wars UK will be in court next week seeking to overturn the refusal of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to release how many of the UK’s fleet of ten armed Reaper drones are deployed and where they are located. The MoD currently releases such deployment details about its other armed aircraft, but has insisted since late 2014 that such information cannot be released about its armed drones.
The Information Tribunal, will take place in central London on 11th and 12th July, but will be partially heard behind closed doors with campaigners and the public excluded. Drone Wars will argue that given the ethical and legal concerns about the use of armed drones, it is in the public interest that there should be at least as much transparency about the deployment of armed drones as for the UK’s other armed aircraft.
During operations in Afghanistan, the UK MoD regularly detailed the number of armed Reaper drones deployed, as well as their location at Kandahar airport. However it appears when the decision was made to continue to use armed drones beyond Afghanistan (the Reaper fleet was originally acquired under urgent operational requirement rules only for use in Afghanistan, and bypassed normal procurement procedures) the decision was also taken to refuse to give such details in the future.
The MoD regularly insists that armed drones are no different from other military aircraft. However, in refusing to release the numbers and location of Reapers deployed on operations against ISIS while doing so for its other armed aircraft, drones are clearly being treated differently. This would appear to be because the MoD wants to use them, or at the very least have the option to use them, on secret operations. However, given the serious ethical and legal concerns about the use of armed drones, shrouding their deployment in secrecy is a recipe for disaster.
Transparency will enable proper scrutiny and accountability, helping to ensure they are not deployed beyond the battlefield, and that the ability that drones give, to undertake remote air strikes with virtual impunity, does not erode international legal norms particularly around ‘last resort’.
Beyond Iraq and Syria?
While it is publicly knowledge that some of Britain’s fleet of ten armed Reapers have been deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Shader (as the UK military deployment against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is named) it is not clear if all the UK’s armed drones are deployed there, or if some have been deployed on operations elsewhere, or if some remain in storage in the UK.
Without the release of basic deployment information, we simply cannot know. MPs like Richard Burden, who have raised this issue in parliament, have simply been rebuffed.
Click here for additional information, on the UK Drone Wars website.