Drones

Below is a summary of correspondence between MPG and the Federal Government on armed drones and the involvement of US run and funded defence facilities on Australian soil such as Pine Gap in US drone strikes around the world.

April 2014
 Date  From  To
 3 Apr 2014  MPG  DFAT (Julie Bishop MP)
 24 Apr 2014  DFAT (Greg French)  MPG

Not being happy with DFAT’s response (4 Mar 2014), MPG submitted another very detailed letter to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (3 Apr 2014).

MPG is alarmed by Australia’s alleged complicity in the guidance of US weaponised drones and decries the indiscriminate killing of innocent victims resulting from their use. Furthermore, it does not appreciate receiving evasive answers to legitimate queries by our representatives in the government.

MPG finally received a further letter (24 Apr 2014) from DFAT on behalf of the Foreign Minister. However, this brief response does nothing to allay the group’s concern about Australia’s alleged involvement in the operation of the US drone system. Nor does this correspondence allay our fears that Australia is likely to squander its term on the Security Council (January 2013 to December 2014) by not pursuing the recommendations of the Heyns and Emmerson reports on this modern weapon of terror.

November 2013 to March 2014
 Date  From  To
 11 Nov 2013  MPG  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Julie Bishop MP)
 23 Jan 2014  MPG  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Julie Bishop MP)
 4 Mar 2014  DFAT (Greg French)  MPG

Following the release of a UN report in September 2013 that queried the legality of armed drones, and following a strike that killed a Taliban leader, Hakimulla Mehsud, MPG wrote to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (11 Nov 2013). In this letter it was argued that Australia is in breach of international legislation. Significantly, material released by Edward Snowden has made it almost certain that the Pine Gap facility is used to guide and direct US drones.

The report of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions via the use of drones, prepared by Christof Heyns and released on September 13, 2013, can be found here.

Having received no response from the Foreign Minister, the group wrote to the Foreign Minister again (23 Jan 2014). A response to this second letter was received from Greg French (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – DFAT). Despite the report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur mentioned above, the letter from Greg French (4 Mar 2014) indicated that nothing has changed since his earlier letter (29 May 2013).

Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson had prepared a report on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.  This report was released on March 10, 2014.

Amongst other things, the Emmerson Report recommended that States using armed drones, investigate and explain the circumstances wherever there is a plausible indication that civilians have been killed. This means that if (as we suspect) Australia is involved in the guidance and control of US weaponised drones, it is under an obligation to account for any strikes involving civilian casualties.

Successive Australian governments have declared that there are no US bases in Australia – we are repeatedly told that there are only Australian military facilities shared by the US  i.e. “joint facilities”. If so, Australia has a clear obligation to account for US drone strikes that result in the loss of civilian life. If, as MPG contends, facilities such as Pine Gap are controlled and financed by the US, then Australia still has an obligation to account for civilian casualties resulting from US drone strikes, since Australia is complicit in these casualties occurring due to the fact that we host these facilities.

December 2012 to July 2013

List of correspondence

 Date  From  To
 1 Dec 2012  MPG  UN Representative (Gary Quinlan)
 1 Dec 2012  MPG  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Bob Carr)
 6 Feb 2013  Senator Bob Carr  MPG
 15 Apr 2013  MPG  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Bob Carr)
 29 May 2013  DFAT (Greg French)  MPG
 25 Jul 2013  MPG  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Bob Carr)

In December 2012, MPG wrote to Australia’s  Ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan (1 Dec 2012), and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Carr (1 Dec 2012), about drones. In February 2013, Mr Carr (6 Feb 2013) replied, remarking that drones have been “an effective tool in global counter terrorism efforts”. Not being happy with this response, MPG sent Mr Carr (15 Apr 2013) a follow-up letter.

Greg French (29 May 2013) from DFAT replied on behalf of Mr Carr. His letter did not address MPG’s request, namely that Australia speak out against the use of drones in the UN Security Council. The letter also failed to answer our question about Australian-based facilities being used to operate the US drones system.

In July, MPG wrote to Mr Carr (25 Jul 2013) again, making reference to an article by Philiph Dorling that appeared in The Age on 21 July 2013. The article made the involvement of Pine Gap in the operation of US armed drones abundantly clear. Not surprisingly, there has been no response from Mr Carr.

The Labor government was defeated at the Federal election on September 7, 2013. As a result, MPG’s ongoing queries about armed drones have been addressed to the new Coalition government.

Notes

Sen. Scott Ludlam’s article ‘Two Australians were killed by US drones. Of course that’s our business’, The Guardian, 5 Jun 2014, refers to the assassination of two Australians – Chris Harvard, an Australian citizen, and the other, a dual Australian–New Zealand citizen – in November 2013 in Yemen.

Up until now, the Federal government has failed to properly account for the death of Chris Harvard. More information about this particular case can be found here.

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