Comparisons to Orwell’s dystopia have inevitably been drawn with the drone strikes recently carried out by the UK in Syria that killed two British IS fighters, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin. Amnesty reacted with alarm at the news that remote control drones had been used as vehicles of execution – action they say “is difficult to conceive as being a feature of the present” – but particularly against a country with which we are not at war.
Controversy is certainly brewing over what Michael Fallon’s critics have termed a US-style “kill-list” and the legality of the government’s action, which David Cameron initially justified as an act of UK self-defence in his address to the Commons last Monday, necessary to protect the UK from an “imminent threat” – action which is permitted under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
Aside from questions over the imminence of the threat to the UK, which has already been questioned by the former DPP Lord Macdonald, there is the UK’s letter to the UN, in which the UK reports its reasons for the strikes (as required by Article 51 of the UN Charter), a hitherto unmentioned justification was revealed: the collective self-defence of Iraq, against which ISIL is engaged in an ongoing armed attack. Did Cameron change his tack? The suggestion of governmental vacillating does not sit well with Reprieve who have released a statement saying the UK’s letter “casts doubt” on the PM’s address to Parliament, with their legal director quite flatly stating “it can’t be both” reasons.
But this may not necessarily be doublespeak. Legal commentator Carl Gardner suggests the two reasons are legally independent of each other, pointing out that the initial reason of self-defence of the UK never changed, but was only added to by what others believe was in itself a sufficient, if not better, reason in the first place. Gardner goes so far to say that the self-defence of Iraq was a reason left unmentioned in the first place in order to save “political embarrassment”.
Whether Cameron’s failure to mention the collective self-defence of Iraq in the first place weakens the legality of the strike remains to be seen.
- Justice Secretary Michael Gove is to ditch the controversial commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice, Just Solutions International, set up by his predecessor Chris Grayling to sell its services in probation and prisons on the world stage. JSI has been criticised by Amnesty for its £5.9m contract with Saudi Arabia, a country with a poor human rights record known for torture and beheadings. Yet despite the closure, the “Saudi Project” will continue, for cancellation would apparently “incur financial penalties” (something over which David Allen Green raises serious questions – in the meantime Gove is resting assured that “his department will continue to promote the rule of law, good governance and judicial reform internationally”. (The Guardian, 10 September)
- Arkansas has managed to get hold of lethal drugs for the first time in a decade, consequently scheduling the executions of eight inmates for October 21 . These lethal drugs are now difficult to obtain since pharmaceutical companies have largely stopped selling them for ethical reasons, but in June Arkansas succeeded their procurement – with the price of death standing at $24,226.40. One of these drugs, Midazolam, was used in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in 2014, yet the US Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that its use did not violate the 8th Amendment ban.
- Following the high profile assisted dying case of Tony Nicklinson, where it was held reform of the law on euthanasia was a “matter for Parliament”, Parliament has finally spoken. MPs rejected plans for a right to die in their first vote on the issue in almost 20 years. Opinion remains unchanged since 1997 when 72% against the bill compared with 74% last week. (see Friday’s BBC coverage)
In the Courts
- H. v. Sweden – The Swedish Migration Board’s rejection in 2013 of a Somali woman’s bid to avoid deportation back to Mogadishu in Somalia was not a violation of Article 3 despite her claim of facing a real risk of forced marriage, sexual assault and persecution. The Swedish Migration Board had not bought her tale of fleeing Somalia with a secret boyfriend to escape a forced marriage to an older man, fearing being beaten by her jihadi uncles if she ever returned – having initially claimed she had left the country due to war and subsequently changing her story. The joint dissent in this case describes deportation as placing “her physical integrity and her life in manifest danger”.
- Controversial named person scheme upheld by the Court of Session
- This Way, That Way, The Other Way? Directions for Human Rights in the UK, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, 19th October 2015. See here for full details and how to book.
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