Churches challenge Foreign Secretary on U.S drone strikes

The Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the BaptistUnion of Great Britain have called on the Foreign Secretary todistance the UK Government from the United States Government'spractice of using missiles to target individuals suspected ofinvolvement in terrorism. 

Church leaders have expressed their anxiety over thehumanitarian and legal implications of the CIA-operated dronecampaign, arguing that it contravenes protections establishedin 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 notpermit the rules of war to be used to support targeted killings ofindividuals suspected of committing terrorist crimes.  

Steve Hucklesby, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the MethodistChurch in Britain, said: "The United States drone strikes havekilled around 3,000 people in Pakistan.  Whole communities areliving in fear of the drones flying overhead. The U.Sadministration is, in effect, attempting to rewrite internationallaw in order to justify their action. This imperils us all. Itpotentially sets a precedent for any government to declare war ongroups of individuals on the basis of a perceived threat that suchindividuals might present. All governments have an obligation topersuade others to uphold international law. Our own governmentcannot wash its hands of this responsibility while it is in amilitary alliance with the United States in the region."  

Frank Kantor, the Secretary for Church and Society of the UnitedReformed Church, said: "There is a legal requirement underinternational law to identify all casualties that result from dronestrikes, under any and all circumstances. We therefore call on theUK Government to comply fully with this legal requirement,releasing information on the number of fatalities and publishing asummary of all investigations into civilian casualties."

Tomorrow (Saturday) a group of people will walk from the ElbitFactory in Shenstone, Shropshire, where drone engines aremanufactured, to the RAF base in Waddington where the RAF plans tobase UK drone operators next year. The seven-day walk (October 6 to13) will pass by the Thales Watchkeeper Drone Plant inLeicestershire where the aircrafts' bodies are manufactured. TheRevd Bill Anderson, Methodist District Chair for Birmingham, willbe one of the people walking to raise awareness about the UK's useof drones. "As Christians we are committed to pursue the path ofpeace," said Bill. "This is a difficult path and made all the moredifficult if our forces are perceived as invisible, disengaged andremote. 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 aboutwhy we are walking. That way we can raise awareness about theillegitimate use of drones."

At the 2012 Methodist Church Conference in July, Methodistsagreed that the government should urge the U.S to discontinue thepractice of targeting suspected members of terrorist organisationswith drones. The United Reformed Church also supported thisposition at their General Assembly over the summer. Although theBaptist Union of Great Britain has not had an opportunity to debatethe use of drones yet, Stephen Keyworth, the BUGB's Head of Faithand Unity, is very supportive of raising the issue with the UKGovernment. "This is an ethical issue of our time that we mustrespond to," he said. "The use of armed drones seems to beseductive to governments as the innocent are not supposed to gethurt.  From numerous examples this is clearly not the case andtheir regular use must be reassessed."

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