Grannies meet with United Nations officials

During the last week of September, the GPB, with other groups, participated in 16 street events over six days throughout NYC [three locations each day in a different neighborhood and one on Saturday]. Each event had a one-fifth scale model [11 feet wide and 8 feet long] of a Reaper Drone – complete with Hellfire missiles and 500 pound bombs, provided by Know Drones, to draw attention and to illustrate the horror of drones as deadly weapons and fearsome spies on communities.

Signing the petition at the NYPL
Signing the petition at the NYPL

We chose that week because the United Nations General Assembly was in session; literature given to the public urged them to contact the UN asking that the killing stop and 649 persons signed our petition addressed to the Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon calling for the banning of weaponized and surveillance drones worldwide. Over 60 volunteers gave out literature, got signatures and helped assemble and mount the drones with Nick Mottern and George Guerci of Know Drones. We had many interesting conversations with the public, including visitors from several countries.

Last Drone event at Guggenheim Museum
Last Drone event at Guggenheim Museum

To prepare for the events, the GPB sent letters outlining our position against weaponized/surveillance drones to approximately 80 UN personnel including Permanent Representatives of Member States, special committees and officials such as Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane, who responded and invited us to meet with her.

On October 25th, Phyllis Cunningham and Edith Cresmer of the GPB, together with Nick Mottern of Know Drones, met with her Senior Political Affairs Officer, Randy Rydell, PhD. The meeting lasted 2 hours. Dr. Rydell was joined by one of his staff, Katherine Prizeman.

We told them about our desire to see weaponized and surveillance drones outlawed.  We then learned that the two recent reports about drones had been requested by the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee which deals with Social, Humanitarian and Cultural concerns;  Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns reported on Extrajudicial and Summary Executions while Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson reported on Protecting Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism.

The Office of Disarmament Affairs reports to the First Committee which deals with Disarmament and International Security.  [If killer drones were illegal, they would be the responsibility of the First Committee, as Disarmament would be required.] Although the drone reports were not under the purview of the First Committee, Dr. Rydell was, nevertheless, keen to hear our ideas.  He provided us lists of contacts in Member States offices and gave us two suggestions for how to bring our concern – that drones be outlawed, not just regulated – to the attention of the UN.

One idea was to get a group of Member States to request of the International Court of Justice a ruling on the legality of weaponized/surveillance drones.

The other suggestion was to have several States request of the Secretary General that a committee of Experts be empanelled to study and examine the issue.

He further suggested that we contact other NGOs [non-governmental organizations] such as Article 36 and Reaching Critical Will, part of International WILPF.

Unfortunately, according to the above-noted UN reports, weaponized drones are not considered illegal; they are assumed to be legal provided rules are followed.  The rules include necessity, proportionalty, avoiding civilian casualities, and transparancy. The reports also considered the question of how to deal with a conflict which is not between two States [nations], but between non-state actors which can be located anywhere [al Qaeda and its associates] and the United States of America.

Reports recently issued by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also declined to call killer drones illegal, although they did criticize States perpetrating drone killing for failing to report known details of civilian deaths.  While States have acknowledged their drones caused deaths of civilians, they claim such killing was infrequent, unintended, an accident, collateral damage.

Dr. Rydell seemed receptive to our goals. He and Ms. Prizeman explained that the UN’s purpose is to maintain Peace and if conflict nevertheless occurs between states, to establish and monitor rules for the conduct of the conflict.  They explained the difference between two kinds of laws: Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law.  International Humanitarian Laws prescribe rules for conduct during war; they originated in the Seventeenth Century.  These rules include protection of civilians, no torture of captured enemy and a duty to capture rather than kill, if possible.   Human Rights Law is of more recent origin and deals with treatment of people worldwide in all circumstances [including war but not only war].

We learned after we met with Dr. Rydell that the legality of the drone as a weapon had been challenged during the meeting of the Third Committee of the General Assembly on the morning of October 25th by the Permanent Representative from Brazil.  He expressed surprise that the reports said weaponized drones are legal if they follow the rules, saying that he believed that there had never been a determination as to their legality; furthermore he said the chain of command within the US precludes transparency because the CIA by definition does not evaluate and report on its actions.

Also, a report by a Swiss based agency known as Alkarama, concluded that recent use of weaponized drones in Yemen is illegal. A recent email from David Swanson of, who has read this report, stated

this group finds the entire practice of murdering people with flying robots to be illegal.
Alkarama makes this finding, not out of ignorance of the endless intricacies deployed by the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Rather, Alkarama adopts the same dialect and considers the same scenarios: Is it legal if it’s a war, if it’s not a war? Is it discriminate, necessary, proportionate? Et cetera. But the conclusion is that the practice is illegal no matter which way you slice it.

Alkarama and Brazil agree with our position. Dr. Rydell suggested other countries that may consider drone warfare illegal: Pakistan, Switzerland, Austria and Mexico.

We need to connect with all possible allies to press for ending all use of weaponized and surveillance drones. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on New York City, whose legislature, the City Council of the City of New York, we hope to persuade to outlaw drones over the city’s territory.

– Edith Cresmer
for the Granny Peace Brigade
Photos: Bud Korotzer

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