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Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations has claimed that Britain’s killing of Islamic State militants in Syria was legal because the drone strikes that caused the fatalities were launched to defend Iraq. The government’s justification for the killings contrasts sharply with Prime Minister David Cameron’s earlier rhetoric, which claimed the strikes against Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) were a justified means of defending Britain’s national security.
On Monday [September 7, 2015], Cameron told MPs the drone strikes were legal because they were intended to prevent attacks on Britain. However, a letter sent to the UN Security Council (UNSC) by the British government laid out a different legal justification for bombing Syria. The letter claimed drone strikes in Syria are “a necessary and proportionate exercise of the individual right of self-defense of the United Kingdom”, but added that “action against ISIL in Syria is lawful in the collective self-defense of Iraq”. The Islamic State militants killed in the drone strike are believed to be Ruhul Amin, 26, from Aberdeen, and Reyaad Khan, 21, from Cardiff. They were killed in Raqqa, Syria, on August 21. No civilians were reported to have been killed by the airstrike.
The government’s latest justification for the strikes has proved controversial. As a result, Cameron has been accused of duplicity. Labour Party leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn said Cameron’s failure to mention the additional justification of defending Iraq raised the question of whether parliament had been duly consulted. “The government appears to have used an additional and entirely separate justification for this covert strike in their letter to the UN, which was not mentioned in the prime minister’s statement to parliament”, he said. “Why did the government cite the [defense] of Iraq when justifying this strike to the UN, but not when doing so to parliament ? Is it because parliament previously voted against action in Syria, making this justification at odds with the will of the Commons ? The prime minister cannot face two ways on this issue –he needs to urgently explain this discrepancy”.
Legal charity Reprieve has also condemned the government’s justification for conducting the strikes, saying such military action flouts a 2013 parliamentary vote that blocked airstrikes in Syria. “The prime minister’s supposed reasons for carrying out this unprecedented drone attack seem to be changing by the day”, said Kat Craig, Reprieve’s Legal Director of Abuses in Counter-Terrorism. “Parliament voted strikes in Syria down, the government promised to return to parliament if it were going to strike again, and yet the PM has just told the United Nations he struck Syria in order to defend Iraq”. Craig called upon the government to immediately offer a full explanation of the factual and legal logic for the strikes.