On 27 February 2014 the European Parliament adopted Resolution 2014/2567(RSP) on the use of armed drones wherein it notes its concerns on the deaths of thousands of civilians where drones have been used. The European Parliament’s resolution comes after the 2013 reports submitted to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council by among others, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Professor Christof Heyns, who is also the co-director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa from the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria.
The resolution, which was initiated by Green MEPs, condemns the illegal use of armed drones and calls for a ban on ‘the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons which enable strikes to be carried out without human intervention.
The reports considered included Professor Heyns’ report on the use of lethal force through armed drones and lethal autonomous robots (LARs) from the perspective of protection of the right to life. The resolution also considers other documents like the 2010 report by former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, the 2013 report on drones by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson and the 2013 statement on armed drones by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.
In his 2013 report on drones to the United Nations General Assembly, Professor Heyns noted as follows: “Although drones are not illegal weapons, they can make it easier for States to deploy deadly and targeted force on the territories of other States. As such, they risk undermining the protection of life in the immediate and longer terms. If the right to life is to be secured, it is imperative that the limitations posed by international law on the use of force are not weakened by broad justifications of drone strikes”. He further emphasised the centrality of transparency and accountability obligations whenever armed drones are used. In his recommendations, Professor Heyns called on inter-governmental organisations like the European Union to engage ‘in individual and collective consensus-seeking processes to determine the correct interpretation and application of the established international standards for the use of drones that are equally applicable to all States.’
Professor Heyns also submitted and presented a report on lethal autonomous robots to the United Nations Human Rights Council in May last year wherein he underlined that LARs take the problems raised by drones to the extreme and called for a world moratorium on their development, production and deployment. The European Parliament Resolution 2014/2567(RSP) therefore comes as a positive response to some of his recommendations.
Commenting after the vote, Green MEP and chair of the Parliament's sub-committee on human rights Barbara Lochbihler stated that "The European Parliament has today raised serious concerns with the use of military drones and the deaths of thousands of civilians resulting from drone strikes. MEPs have delivered a strong rebuke to the practice of targeted aerial killings outside a declared war zone, as well as the use of armed drones in war situations outside of the international legal framework. The EU needs to address the legal, ethical and security challenges posed by the increasing use of armed drones, including the urgent need to secure complete transparency and accountability. The resolution also stresses that EU member states should strictly refrain from participating in or facilitating extrajudicial targeted killings, for instance by sharing relevant information with countries such as the US"
Green spokesperson on security and defence, Tarja Cronberg, added that: "The market for armed drones has been rapidly growing in a regulatory lacuna. Millions of Euro of EU funds have already been spent on drone research and there are plans by the Commission and EU governments to develop an EU drone programme. MEPs have today called for the urgent creation of a legal framework which regulates the use of drones and aims at preventing an arms race. There is also a glaring need to integrate armed drones in relevant European and international arms control regimes and to stop research and development on fully autonomous weapons which kill without human intervention."