UK Politics

Unmanned drones: MoD told 'transparency will build public trust'

British Reaper drone in Afghanistan Image copyright MOD
Image caption Armed RAF Reaper drones have been deployed in Afghanistan

The Ministry of Defence should be more open about using unmanned aerial drones so the public has greater confidence in the operations, MPs have said.

The Commons defence committee backed calls to publish details where there was evidence civilians had been killed by drones - if this could be done without jeopardising operations.

Transparency would help "debunk myths and counter misinformation", MPs said.

But they concluded that the UK's use of drones was fully within the law.

The committee reported that the MoD had said it was aware of only one case of a UK drone strike in Afghanistan which had resulted in civilian fatalities.

Four Afghan civilians and two insurgents were killed in a March 2011 attack on a pair of pick-up trucks carrying explosives.

Although the MoD had carried out an investigation into the incident, the committee said it should accept the recommendation of the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson QC, that details of such incidents should be made public.

"In any case in which civilians have been, or appear to have been, killed, the state responsible is under an obligation to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation," Mr Emmerson had concluded.

The committee said: "We recognise that this is not a simple and straightforward request as to do so could seriously jeopardise continuing operations.

"Nonetheless, we recommend that, to the extent that it is operationally secure to do so, following an event which has resulted in confirmed civilian casualties the MoD should seek to publish details about the incident and any lessons learned from the review process."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Drones are operated from control rooms at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire

The committee praised the RAF pilots who operate the drones from UK bases.

"Despite being remote from the battle space they exhibited a strong sense of connection to the life and death decisions they are sometimes required to take," it said.

'Secret programme'

Armed forces minister Mark Francois said it was "very welcome" that the committee had recognised publicly the "value and effectiveness" of UK drones, "and that operations comply fully with international law".

He continued: "I am particularly pleased to note the committee's recognition of the highly skilled personnel who operate this equipment, supporting and protecting our ground troops, our allies and Afghan civilians on a daily basis,.

"I hope this very positive report helps to dispel some of the frustrating myths often propagated, and reassure people that remotely piloted air systems bring life-saving benefit to our armed forces, and to those we are working to protect, every day."

But Kat Craig, legal director at human rights charity Reprieve, said: "A range of evidence indicates that the UK supports the secret strikes carried out by the CIA and others in violation of international and domestic law - through the sharing of intelligence and the provision of facilities at US bases on British soil.

"Yet British ministers, like their US counterparts, have refused to come clean with the public over the role our country plays.

"It is high time the secret drone programme - and Britain's part in it - was brought out of the shadows."

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