Scientific article
Open access

Killing by drone: towards uneasy reconciliation with the values of a liberal state

Published inHuman Rights Quarterly, vol. 38, p. 108-133
Publication date2016

The occurrence of a terrorist act frequently prompts governments to enact a wide array of preventive measures, some of which grate against human rights norms. Among the most problematic is targeted killing. Developments in drone technology have made drones the principal means by which the United States kills suspected terrorists and have allowed a dramatic expansion of this lethal measure's use. Since the killing of suspects outside a structured battlefield or within the context of an interstate war is, by its nature, a form of summary execution, it is not self-evidently reconcilable with the human right to life and therefore with the core values of a liberal state. Nevertheless, we conclude that reconciliation is at least theoretically possible if drone (or any other form of targeted) killing is restrained by a process with certain quasijudicial features in which the totality of the relevant international norms are consistently applied. The relevant norms are embedded in the law determining the legitimacy of recourse to force (what lawyers call the jus ad bellum) and in the body of humanitarian law (essentially the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Rules), as well as in human rights law (above all, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and interpretations thereof by authoritative institutions). Without denying the existence of a number of gray areas, we attempt to illustrate the real-world implications of the normative framework we propose.

Citation (ISO format)
BERNARD, Frédéric, FARER, Tom. Killing by drone: towards uneasy reconciliation with the values of a liberal state. In: Human Rights Quarterly, 2016, vol. 38, p. 108–133.
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