Armed drones and the Right to Life

13 September 2013

UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns

In this report to the UN General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur focuses on the use of lethal force through armed drones from the perspective of protection of the right to life. 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. The Special Rapporteur examines the ways in which the constitutive regimes of international law, including international human rights law, international humanitarian law and the law on the inter-State use of force, regulate the use of armed drones. He reiterates that these legal regimes constitute an interconnected and holistic system and emphasizes the distinctive role of each in protecting the right to life. He cautions against wide and permissive interpretations of their rules and standards and underlines the centrality of transparency and accountability obligations.

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The Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations (HRFG) and the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict assisted Professor Christof Heyns with the preparation of the report by providing a background paper and hosting an expert meeting.