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Game of drones: UK govt faces legal threat to reveal UAV usage

Game of drones: UK govt faces legal threat to reveal UAV usage
The UK government is facing a legal challenge over the deployment of its armed drones amid claims that its Afghanistan fleet could be moved to the Middle East to operate against jihadists.

The human rights group Reprieve plans to launch a judicial review challenge against the Ministry of Defence if the UK government does not clarify what it will do with its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) after the Afghanistan mission ends.

"We call for more transparency and accountability on the use of drones," a spokeswoman for Reprieve told RT.

"We want more clarity on the use of Reaper drones," she added.

The MoD has repeatedly refused to state what it intends to do with the RAF’s Reaper squadron once the UK deployment in Afghanistan draws to a close this December.

Some claim that the Reapers could be moved from Afghanistan to operate against jihadists in the Middle East, the Guardian reports.

The UK-based human rights group is said to act on behalf of Saeed Al Yousefi, a Yemeni man from a region that has been frequented by US drones, who has raised questions what will happen to 10 armed Reaper drones currently based in Afghanistan.

PRESS RELEASE: UK government told to reveal plans for drone strikes outside warzones http://t.co/h5BF8e1noa

— Reprieve (@ReprieveUK) September 22, 2014

Reprieve’s legal director Kat Craig said: “It is bad enough that the UK already supports the CIA's secret, illegal drone campaign but there is now a real risk that Britain will follow the US down the slippery slope to an endless, global war without limits and without accountability. The public must be allowed to know when and where our government sends armed drones to carry out deadly strikes – if the government resists this, it will strike at the heart of our democratic traditions.”

This announcement comes as British officials are said to go before the United Nations human rights council in Geneva on Monday.

The inquiry was launched by Ben Emmerson QC, the UN's special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, to examine the legality of targeted killings through drone strikes. During the inquiry in Geneva, states including the UK are urged to explain their legal justification for the use of armed drones.

The 10 Reapers are controlled remotely from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire and a USAF base in Creech, Nevada.

Reprieve confirmed to RT that it is considering pushing for legal actions against the MoD if it doesn’t reveal what the Reaper drones will be used for. "The British government has been warned it may face legal action if it fails to consult Parliament and the public on the redeployment of drones outside declared warzones," a Reprieve spokesperson said.

On Monday, Reprieve fellow @ShazadAkbar will be speaking at the UN's expert panel on drones.

— Reprieve (@ReprieveUK) September 19, 2014

The UK has repeatedly been accused of assisting the US drones program, which is operated by the CIA and focuses on Pakistan. US drone strikes are estimated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) to have caused up to more than 1,000 civilian deaths across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, most of which reportedly took place in Pakistan, where the US targeting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Ahead of the UN inquiry into the impact on civilians of drone strikes and other targeted killings, Emmerson said, "The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay, and its use in theaters of conflict is a reality with which the world must contend. It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirements of international law.”

Reprieve's legal challenge is focused on Yemen because of past speculation that UK drones could be used against jihadi groups there. Regarding the government’s use of its drones, Defence Minister Mark Francois told MPs in July, "The UK intends to retain the Reaper capability primarily for its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities after combat operations in Afghanistan have ceased.”

"As is the case for the routine deployment of other military assets, the MoD may notify parliament of the deployment of UK reaper RPAS, but there is no intention for parliamentary approval to be sought prior to each deployment or re-deployment," Francois added.

Emmerson said the "exponential" rise of drone technology required a proper legal framework. The UN inquiry will study the impact of drone strikes in five places – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, the Palestinian territories and Somalia.