European Parliament hold Public Hearing on Drones

April 26, 2013

Image of a drone flying

On Thursday, 25 April 2013, the European Parliament held a public hearing to examine the human rights implications of drones.

Human rights groups have long looked to the European Union to provide an important moral, ethical and legal counterweight to the United States on the issue of drones. Thus, Thursday’s joint hearing by the Sub-Committee on Human Rights and the Sub-Committee on Security and Defense was welcome news.

A panel of experts debated if current international law can adequately apply to armed drones, suggested ways to improve the transparency surrounding their use, and called for increased accountability on the state actors who deploy them.

Speaking during the debate, MEPs Sarah Ludford and Ana Gomes called for a European Parliament Resolution on the issue of drones, and suggested that the United States and Europe conduct a hearing on drones in the context of the Trans-Atlantic Dialogue. MEP Gomes also called for EU governments and institutions to speak out the U.S.’ current interpretation of international law.

A representative from the European External Action Service (the EU’s diplomatic service) noted that the EU does not currently have a formal, declared position on drones, but reiterated that the EU has consistently held that the fight against terrorism must be conducted in line with all relevant international law, including human rights law.

Reprieve’s Deputy Director Hilary Stauffer, a member of the panel, said: “We have been trying to engage European countries on this topic for a long time, as the United States is currently creating an entirely new set of legal justifications for the use of drones, which will have very negative ramifications if widely adopted. But more importantly, Reprieve wants European leaders to understand the terrible physical and psychological impact that drones have on civilian populations. Europe needs to find the courage to confront the United States and reject the current misguided narrative that drones are a ‘safe’ weapon. We will urge them adopt a common stance on the use of armed drones that will place human rights first and minimize damage to civilians.”

Other panel members included academics, legal authorities, and representatives of the United Nations.