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HUMAN rights
Armed drones have emerged over the past decade and more as the new ‘revolution in military affairs’. Great controversy has arisen about their use, including the legality of the remote use of force. Thousands of people – including a large number of civilians – have been killed
in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia by missiles launched by remote control, often from halfway around the world, from these so-called ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’.
 Christof Heyns, Professor of Human Rights
Law in the Faculty of Law at UP, is one of the
leading authorities worldwide on armed drones
and the law. In an article that appeared in the Cambridge University Press flagship publication, the International and Comparative Law Quarterly (ICLQ), he sets out his views on the topic.1 Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law at Oxford University, was one of the co-authors. The article won the Paper of the Year award with an invitation by the editorial board of the journal to the authors to deliver the ICLQ Annual Lecture on the topic of their article at Cambridge University in 2017.2
Heyns’s work on drones started when he was appointed as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in 2010. In 2014 he presented an influential report on drones to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and, in preparation, convened a meeting of 20 experts at Oxford University earlier that year. This is
use. As Heyns puts it: “Drones should follow the law, not the other way around”. He writes that drones allow states to eliminate those whom they consider to present a threat to them at little or no risk to their own forces. In such contexts, there is a tendency to interpret the legal rules applicable to the use of force in ways that facilitate their use. Therefore the need to set out those rules in as clear and comprehensive a way as possible, so as to ensure that they are not watered down.
There are several legal regimes
applicable to the use of force
by states, and stringent
restrictions on when one state
may use force in the territory of another state. In addition to the rules that protect the sovereignty and territory of states, separate legal regimes aimed at the protection of people place further constraints
on the use of force. In a situation of war, the rules of the law of armed conflict are the primary points of reference, while human rights law alone determines when force may be used in all other situations.
According to Heyns, the rules of the law of armed conflict are much more permissive about the use of force than human rights law. As a result, states often
   Dapo Akande and Christof Heyns
where his collaboration with Professor Akande started.
The main message of Heyns’s work is clear: drones are
not unlawful weapons as such, but it is the ease with which they can be used by states to project lethal force worldwide that is cause for great circumspection and a stringent application of the legal rules applicable to their
 1 Heyns C, Akande D, Hill-Cawthorne L and Chengeta T, 2016. The International Law Framework Regulating the Use of Armed Drones. International and Comparative Law Quarterly (ICLQ), 65, 791–827.
2 The International and Comparative Law Quarterly analytics show that the paper already falls within the top 5% of all research outputs scored.
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