05 October 2012

Churches challenge Foreign Secretary on U.S drone strikes

The Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain have called on the Foreign Secretary to distance the UK Government from the United States Government's practice of using missiles to target individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism. 

Church leaders have expressed their anxiety over the humanitarian and legal implications of the CIA-operated drone campaign, arguing that it contravenes protections established in international law and is inciting radicalism and violence. Today the three Churches wrote to the Foreign Secretary, asking him to confirm that the UK would not permit the rules of war to be used to support targeted killings of individuals suspected of committing terrorist crimes.  

Steve Hucklesby, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church in Britain, said: "The United States drone strikes have killed around 3,000 people in Pakistan.  Whole communities are living in fear of the drones flying overhead. The U.S administration is, in effect, attempting to rewrite international law in order to justify their action. This imperils us all. It potentially sets a precedent for any government to declare war on groups of individuals on the basis of a perceived threat that such individuals might present. All governments have an obligation to persuade others to uphold international law. Our own government cannot wash its hands of this responsibility while it is in a military alliance with the United States in the region."   

Frank Kantor, the Secretary for Church and Society of the United Reformed Church, said: "There is a legal requirement under international law to identify all casualties that result from drone strikes, under any and all circumstances. We therefore call on the UK Government to comply fully with this legal requirement, releasing information on the number of fatalities and publishing a summary of all investigations into civilian casualties."

Tomorrow (Saturday) a group of people will walk from the Elbit Factory in Shenstone, Shropshire, where drone engines are manufactured, to the RAF base in Waddington where the RAF plans to base UK drone operators next year. The seven-day walk (October 6 to 13) will pass by the Thales Watchkeeper Drone Plant in Leicestershire where the aircrafts' bodies are manufactured. The Revd Bill Anderson, Methodist District Chair for Birmingham, will be one of the people walking to raise awareness about the UK's use of drones. "As Christians we are committed to pursue the path of peace," said Bill. "This is a difficult path and made all the more difficult if our forces are perceived as invisible, disengaged and remote. I hope that in each of the places we stop along the walk, we will gather people together who might want to talk to us about why we are walking. That way we can raise awareness about the illegitimate use of drones."

At the 2012 Methodist Church Conference in July, Methodists agreed that the government should urge the U.S to discontinue the practice of targeting suspected members of terrorist organisations with drones. The United Reformed Church also supported this position at their General Assembly over the summer. Although the Baptist Union of Great Britain has not had an opportunity to debate the use of drones yet, Stephen Keyworth, the BUGB's Head of Faith and Unity, is very supportive of raising the issue with the UK Government. "This is an ethical issue of our time that we must respond to," he said. "The use of armed drones seems to be seductive to governments as the innocent are not supposed to get hurt.  From numerous examples this is clearly not the case and their regular use must be reassessed."

  1. See here for Churches correspondence with the Foreign Office.
  2. Steve Hucklesby is available for interview. 

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