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Blank testifies on armed drones before Dutch Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee

Emory University School of Law |

Laurie Blank, director of the International Humanitarian Law Clinic, testified Feb. 17 before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Dutch Parliament, on armed drones and international law. Blank testified on the United States' use of drones for warfare, in the context of their possible use by the Netherlands.

Blank and two Dutch experts were asked to inform the committee for the purposes of the debate in the full Parliament with the Minister of Foreign Affairs later that week about establishing rules of international law on the use of armed drones.

She was later quoted in Nederlands Dagblad. Here is a translation:

(Too) Many Questions Still Surround Drones

THE HAGUE – Unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – are not only capable of surveillance, but also carrying and firing weapons. There is still a lot of obscurity about their use. When can this technology be deployed?

The Netherlands still doesn’t have plans to use them, but that may change: the deployment of armed drones. The small, quiet little airplanes are being used quite a lot by the US in Pakistan and in Yemen. During various attacks, many terrorists—but also many civilians and combatants have been killed.

Behavioral Pattern

Before our country also joins in the fight, a lot of clarification is still needed, according to experts. They came together at a Second Chamber (Parliamentary) hearing. Peter Wijninga of The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies said that a lot of the discussions are “uninformed.” Also: “There are many stories about what the UAVs can and cannot do, and then a lot of media speculation follows. Fact and fiction are unable to be separated. The lack of transparency from governments only strengthens this conundrum.” That is, for example, how the idea about the deployment of drones as “unfair” came about, because the pilot sits safely in a building while the target doesn’t have any idea about what might happen. This is not exactly the case, according to Wijninga, who talked about an American drone pilot who quit his job. “He followed a man extremely intensively, he knew who his wife and children were. The recognition of a behavioral pattern became extremely personal, leading to a sort of “relationship.” Because of this, the pilot was almost unable to pull the trigger.


Clarification is also necessary about legal objections. The United States does not make its rationale public about the situations in which drones will be deployed—whether they are used in a war situation or as self-defense. In each situation, different rules apply. Therefore, it is almost impossible to determine whether the deployment was legal, according to American Professor of international humanitarian law, Laurie Blank. “In order to determine that, you have to have the same information as the pilot. Could possible civilian casualties be prevented or not? Who decides? On what basis?”


That the government doesn’t announce this information in the name of national security is understandable, but also worrying, Blank finds. “If a drone were to be deployed in Pakistan right now, everyone would know within no time via the Internet. The US is trying right now to find a balance between openness and tactical silence, but they haven’t found it yet.”

According to Quirine Eijkman from the human rights organization Amnesty International, countries must ask themselves whether the deployment of armed drones is useful in the longer term. During recent attacks in Pakistan, many civilians were killed. “The population there hates Obama now more than the Taliban. With drones, you win perhaps a battle, but the question remains whether you reach peace and justice this way.”


The Second Chamber (Parliament) will discuss the deployment of weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles. Tomorrow, the members of parliament will receive Pakistani victims of drone strikes for testimony, and Thursday there will be a debate over the subject. With the testimony as well as the debate, many parties in the parliament—and also Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans—want to use the discussion about the use of this technology to see whether drones are something for the Netherlands.

Related Links

International Humanitarian Law Clinic »

Laurie Blank Faculty Profile »