Human Rights Clinic Students Submit Legal Brief to UK Parliament on Drone Strikes and Targeted Killings
Brief urges UK Government to comply with international law and set positive international precedent
December 14, 2015, NEW YORK - The Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic submitted a legal brief to the United Kingdom Parliament this month for its inquiry into U.K. policies for the use of drones for targeted killings. The brief, prepared by students Brian Yin ’16, Modupe Odele LL.M. ’16, and Naomi Prodeau ’17, provides the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights with information about the international community’s concerns about drone strikes and targeted killings. These concerns include a lack of compliance with international law, excessive secrecy, and failures to ensure accountability.
“Our brief to the U.K. Parliament brought together the central concerns expressed by the international community, identifying critical areas for inquiry so that lessons may be learned from practice in other jurisdictions,” said Odele, who is focusing her LL.M. studies on international law and human rights.
The Parliamentary inquiry comes in response to the August 21, 2015 strike launched by the U.K. in Raqqa, Syria, killing two British citizens. Concerned with the lack of clarity about an official policy, the Joint Committee on Human Rights launched an inquiry to determine what these policies are, the legal basis for U.K. drone strikes, and the existence of frameworks for accountability.
“Secrecy around drone strikes prevents accountability, challenges the international rule of law, and denies victims the justice they deserve,” said Prodeau, who plans to practice as an international human rights lawyer after earning her degree.
The students’ work in the clinic this year has focused on the U.S. use of drones and targeted killings, and they have been working with international human rights organizations to examine and address the many problems in U.S. practice and policy. Thousands of people have been killed by covert U.S. drone strikes, and victims include civilians and children. U.S. practice has been heavily criticised, especially for its excessive secrecy and lack of accountability. Whether other countries will follow the lead of the United States in their use of drone strikes has been a major concern for students in the Human Rights Clinic.
“U.S. practices and policies on drone strikes risk setting a dangerous precedent for the international community,” said Yin, who plans to join the international law firm Clifford Chance upon graduation. “The U.K. should not make the same mistakes.”
The Clinic’s brief urges the U.K. Government “to set a positive standard for the responsible and lawful use of lethal force within the framework of international law,” in order to ensure that countries will use drones in compliance with human rights and international law—“a framework that has helped to protect fundamental rights and promote peace and security for civilians around the globe.”
The submission was sent in advance of the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ 2015-2016 session, which includes a thematic inquiry into the U.K. Government’s policy on the use of drones for targeted killings.
The submission builds upon the clinic’s work seeking accountability for targeted killings. In past years, the clinic has conducted advocacy to promote compliance with international law, transparency in the use of lethal force, and accountability for legal violations, and has issued numerous reports and public statements on the use of drones for targeted killing.
The clinic students bring diverse experience and skills to the project. Prior to enrolling in Columbia Law School this year, Odele worked in Nigeria to advance protections for the millions of civilians who have been displaced by violence perpetrated by terrorist group Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria and the resulting heavy-handed counter terrorism operations in the region.
Since coming to Columbia Law School, Prodeau has crafted her work around human rights. With broad areas of interest, Prodeau is part of the International Refugee Assistance Project, an organisation seeking resettlement for refugees of conflict in the Middle-East, and has worked with the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa, where she helped litigate for the realisation of children’s socio-economic rights.
Yin’s work before law school focused on improving educational outcomes for students in the United States, first as a teacher and then as a policy advocate. At Columbia Law School, he has served on the executive board of Rightslink, a student organization that provides research assistance to international human rights NGOs, and was a student in the Immigrants Rights Clinic, where he helped secure asylum for children fleeing from violence in Central America; this year, Yin also serves as the Editor-in-Chief for the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, which is in the process of publishing a special Symposium Issue on the international law implications of the so-called U.S. “Forever War.”
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The full Human Rights Clinic submission can be found on the U.K. Parliament website: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/human-rights-committee/the-uk-governments-policy-on-the-use-of-drones-for-targeted-killing/written/25102.pdf
The Human Rights Clinic is an intensive year-long course directed by Sarah Knuckey, the Lieff Cabraser Associate Clinical Professor of Law and the faculty co-director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School. Knuckey is an expert on international law and the use of force. The Clinic trains students in international human rights advocacy by partnering with civil society and communities to advance social justice.
The Human Rights Institute and Clinic work with civil society around the world to advance respect for international law in the context of lethal force and U.S. counterterrorism/military operations abroad, and to address pervasive secrecy and impunity. The Institute and Clinic seek to ensure greater awareness of the civilian impacts of U.S. wars, and informed public debate about the human and political costs of U.S. operations. They carry out advocacy to promote compliance with international law, transparency in the use of force, and accountability for legal violations. The Institute and Clinic have made significant contributions to the national and international debates on U.S. drone strikes. For more information, visit http://web.law.columbia.edu/human-rights-institute/counterterrorism/accountability-targeted-killings-drone-strikes.