The UK Government has been threatened with legal action over its failure to stop the export of drone components which may be used by the CIA to carry out its illegal campaign in Pakistan.
Research carried out by the legal charity Reprieve indicates that the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has granted General Electric an export licence for products used in Predator drones – the robotic aircraft used by the CIA to bomb North West Pakistan – in breach of its own guidelines requiring respect for human rights and international law.
Reprieve is supporting Malik Jalal, a tribal elder in Pakistan whose community is being terrorised by CIA drones, in this legal challenge. Mr Jalal lives in Manzer Zel, North Waziristan. The region has borne the brunt of drone strikes which have killed more than 3,300 people in Pakistan since 2004, despite the fact that there is no declared war. Research published this week by Stanford and New York universities found that the near-constant presence of drones in the region ‘terrorises’ the local population. Mr Jalal is calling for tighter regulation of Britain’s export, and an end to the export of products that cause death and terror in his community.
A letter sent by Mr Jalal’s legal representatives Tuckers Solicitors challenges BIS’ regulation of the practices of one company in particular: General Electric Intelligent Platforms (GEIP), a subsidiary of General Electric. BIS is required, in assessing applications for export licences, to have regard to criteria including respect for human rights, respect for international law and to avoid granting licences where there is a “clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country”. The CIA’s use of drones to fire missiles in Pakistan, a country with which it is not at war, is in breach of the international law of armed conflict.
In previous correspondence, BIS has openly accepted that it has not considered whether UK exports are being used to assist in illegal drone strikes in Pakistan. Further, it would appear that GEIP may also be selling drone components without any export licence at all, despite the fact that they are intended for, or are capable of, military or dual-use purposes and should therefore be subject to the export licensing regime.
Reprieve has also written to Business Secretary Vince Cable, alerting him of the threat of legal action and asking him to intervene directly.
Reprieve's Legal Director, Kat Craig, said: “The CIA drone campaign kills innocent civilians and terrorises communities. By failing to properly regulate our exports, the Government is not only breaching its own guidelines but allowing companies based in the UK to profit from the US’ deadly activities.
"GEIP have boasted of the role their products play in Predator drones, yet ministers have not considered whether Britain may be complicit in these serious violations of international law. BIS should freeze all exports of drone parts by GEIP until a suitable licensing regime is in place”
Head of Civil Liberties at Tuckers Solicitors, Jules Carey, said: “Malik Jalal says that his job as a Malik (Tribal elder) is to protect the life and liberty of his people and he says that in this he has completely failed. Eighteen members of his tribe have been killed by drone strikes and many more have been seriously injured, including two of his relatives. As the tribal elder, Malik Jalal feels powerless to stop the UAVs. He has described how village life has radically changed, he no longer uses private transport for fear of being targeted, meetings and community events have all but stopped, children don’t go to school and poverty has increased because of the effect on farming and trade. Malik Jalal has described how the drones have caused his community to live in terror and have blighted every aspect of their lives. Put simply, he says the drones have to stop and he instructs us to end the involvement of any British company with them."