Campaigners announce week of action against manufacturers and users of drone technology

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19.09.2012 - In October, campaigners across the UK will undertake a week of demonstrations, talks, petitioning and other events "to protest against the growing acquisition and use of armed drones" by militaries across the world.

The use of drones has increased rapidly in the last few years, with a recent report from the US Congress stating that between 2005 and 2011, the number of countries in possession of drones rose from 41 to at least 76, [1] although only the UK, US and Israel have so far used armed drones.

The Drone Campaign Network (DCN), which has organised October's week of action, notes that:

"The list of countries facing these kind of remote attacks is only like to grow as the US and UK are working on doubling the number of armed drones in their arsenals. Protests against drone strikes are growing in Pakistan and Yemen and we need to add our voices to this call to ground the drones." [1]

From the 6th to the 13 of October, campaigners will undertake demonstrations outside the factories and headquarters of arms firms Elbit, Thales and General Atomics and at RAF bases in Croughton, Oxfordshire and Waddington, Lincolnshire; a petition will be handed to the Welsh government calling for them to withdraw support for the testing of drones at Parc Aberporth; and a number of peace walks will take place.

The closing event will be a public meeting and rally in Porthmadog, Wales. The DCN is inviting people to set up their own events as part of the week of action.

Challenging secrecy

Aside from ethical concerns, the secrecy surrounding their use is also a major issue for campaigners. Since June 2008, the UK has carried out over 300 drone strikes in Afghanistan, but "there is almost no public information" available on the issue. Campaigners are calling for the issues surrounding drone strikes to be "debated openly and honestly," with "careful analysis and judgment based on evidence." [2]

Pushing for the release of information that would permit an informed public debate, the Drone Campaign Network last week launched a petition calling on the UK government to:

"End the secrecy surrounding the use of British drones in Afghanistan and to release all necessary information for a proper public debate. This should include the reasons for individual drone strikes and the number of people killed." [3]

Earlier this year, a legal challenge was launched in an attempt to uncover the possible involvement of the UK's intelligence services in supplying targeting information to the US for its program of drone attacks in Pakistan.

In March, the law firm Leigh Day & Co, along with the charity Reprieve, launched legal action challenging the lawfulness of the UK's alleged provision of "locational intelligence" to the US.

The legal proceedings also assert that:

"There is also a significant risk that GCHQ officers may be guilty of conduct ancillary to crimes against humanity and/or war crimes, both of which are statutory offences under the International Criminal Court Act, 2001." [4]

The risk of "a global war without borders"

Concerns over drone use are widespread and are not just the preserve of campaigners and activists. Last October, the UN's human rights experts on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, stated that:

"The use of such methods by some states to eliminate opponents in countries around the world raises the question why other States should not engage in the same practices. The danger is one of a global war without borders, in which no one is safe." [5]

As the use of drones in warzones increases, there is also significant work going on to ease their introduction into civil airspace for domestic use, where they are perceived as being useful for all manner of tasks, not least surveillance. The US intends to permit unrestricted drone flight in its airspace by 2015, [6] while the European Commission recently published a document stating that work should begin to ensure the use of drones in Europe on the same basis as manned aircraft by 2016. [7]

[1] Drone Campaign Network, 'Drones Week of Action: 6th - 13th October 2012', 5 July 2012
[2] Drone Campaign Network, 'End the secrecy'
[3] Drone Campaign Network, 'David Cameron: End the secrecy surrounding the use of British drones'
[4] Mark Townsend, 'GCHQ civilian staff face war crimes charge over drone strikes in Pakistan', The Observer, 11 March 2012
[5] 'UN human rights expert questions targeted killings and use of lethal force', UN News Centre, 20 October 2011
[6] Government Accountability Office, 'Measuring progress and addressing potential privacy concerns would facilitate integration into the national airspace system', September 2012
[7] 'Commission wants drones flying in European skies by 2016', Statewatch News Online, 14 September 2012

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