UK Government faces legal challenge over failure to regulate export of lethal drone parts

October 9, 2012

Image of a drone flying

The UK Government has been threatened with legal action over its failure to stop the export of drone components which may be used by the CIA to carry out its illegal campaign in Pakistan. 

Research by Reprieve indicates that the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has granted General Electric an export licence for products used in Predator drones – the robotic aircraft used by the CIA to bomb North West Pakistan – in breach of its own guidelines requiring respect for human rights and international law. 

Reprieve is supporting Malik Jalal, a tribal elder in Pakistan whose community is being terrorised by CIA drones, in this legal challenge. Mr Jalal lives in Manzer Zel, North Waziristan. The region has borne the brunt of drone strikes which have killed more than 3,300 people in Pakistan since 2004, despite the fact that there is no declared war.


Research published this week by Stanford and New York universities found that the near-constant presence of drones in the region ‘terrorises’ the local population. Mr Jalal is calling for tighter regulation of Britain’s export, and an end to the export of products that cause death and terror in his community.

A letter sent by Mr Jalal’s legal representatives Tuckers Solicitors challenges BIS’ regulation of the practices of one company in particular: General Electric Intelligent Platforms (GEIP), a subsidiary of General Electric. BIS is required, in assessing applications for export licences, to have regard to criteria including respect for human rights, respect for international law and avoiding granting licences where there is a “clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country”.

The CIA’s use of drones to fire missiles in Pakistan, a country with which it is not at war, is in breach of the international law of armed conflict. In previous correspondence, BIS has openly accepted that it has not considered whether UK exports are being used to assist in illegal drone strikes in Pakistan. Further, it would appear that GEIP may also be selling drone components without any export licence at all, despite the fact that they are intended for, or are capable of, military or dual-use purposes and should therefore be subject to the export licensing regime.

Reprieve has also written to Business Secretary Vince Cable, alerting him of the threat of legal action and asking him to intervene directly.

Reprieve Legal Director, Kat Craig, said: “The CIA drone campaign kills innocent civilians and terrorises communities. By failing to properly regulate our exports, the Government is not only breaching its own guidelines but allowing companies based in the UK to profit from the US’ deadly activities. GEIP have boasted of the role their products play in Predator drones, yet ministers have not considered whether Britain may be complicit in these serious violations of international law. BIS should freeze all exports of drone parts by GEIP until a suitable licensing regime is in place”

Head of Civil Liberties at Tuckers Solicitors, Jules Carey, said: “Malik Jalal says that his job as a Malik (Tribal elder) is to protect the life and liberty of his people and he says that in this he has completely failed. 18 members of his tribe have been killed by drone strikes and many more have been seriously injured including two of his relatives. As the tribal elder, Malik Jalal feels powerless to stop the UAVs. He has described how village life has radically changed, he no longer uses private transport for fear of being targeted, meetings and community events have all but stopped, children don’t go to school and poverty has increased because of the effect on farming and trade. Malik Jalal has described how the drones have caused his community to live in terror and have blighted every aspect of their lives. Put simply he says the drones have to stop and he instructs us to end the involvement of any British company with them.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1099 /

2. A GEIP brochure confirms that their components are used in the control systems for Predator drones – the drones which the CIA uses to carry out strikes in Pakistan: “GE products helped to launch early UAV platforms, and we continue to develop products that will help advance UAS future operations […] Subsequent deployments have included our PPCM2 6U VME Dual PowerPC SBC in the Watchkeeper ground station [and] PPC4A 6U VME SBC in the Predator ground station.” – GEIP Unmanned Aerial Systems, p3:

3. The devastating impact of the US’s drone programme in Pakistan has been highlighted by “Living under Drones”, a new report issued by Stanford and New York Universities (available here).  The report explains that nearly the entire population of Waziristan lives under the constant threat of death, children are afraid to leave their homes because schools have been targeted, and humanitarian workers are afraid to go to the aid of victims because of the US policy of second strikes on those assisting.  In consequence, the incidences of mental illness, anxiety and depression have been rising exponentially in the region.