I am grateful to the Oxford Global Justice Internship Programme and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights (through the Eric Lewis donation) for supporting my internship at Reprieve’s London office, where I spent July to September 2017.
Reprieve is a public interest organisation which does work in two main areas: the death penalty, and abuses in counter-terrorism. I was part of the Assassinations Team, which fell into the latter and challenges the use and legality of drone strikes in situations outside of armed conflict. I undertook and assisted with a range of work, including investigation and litigation on drone strikes in Yemen; advocacy aimed at encouraging the development of accountability structures; research, analysis and application of international law to the use of armed drones; and other tasks, such as attending events, building cases, client conferences, and listing challenges. In this short report, I focus on three aspects of my work in which international law played a significant role, and then conclude with a related benefit I gained from this experience.
First, there has been a recent strain on the concept of imminence in self-defence under the law on the use of force after the UK and Australia officially came out in favour of a wider interpretation. This has a direct bearing on counter-terrorism operations abroad, and specifically the use of drones. I explored these issues, for example by writing a brief aimed at political figures – as part of Reprieve’s advocacy work – specifically outlining the danger of an expansive interpretation of the concept of imminence. I also drafted internal research memos on this, for use in litigation.
Secondly, Reprieve is currently appealing a case to the United States Supreme Court, and has raised issues under the right to life, and international humanitarian law, alleging that a certain drone strike was unlawful and the victims’ families should therefore be offered redress. I assisted in relation to this. I also assisted with Reprieve’s ongoing litigation in Germany, which raises Germany’s positive obligations to protect the right to life, in order to challenge the role of Ramstein Airbase in US drone strikes.
Thirdly, accountability and investigative obligations arise under the right to life in international law, and apply to the use of drones, especially in the context of targeted killings. I analysed and summarised reports and prepared legal research memos on the application of these obligations, to be used in Reprieve’s internal and external work. I also contributed to Reprieve’s advocacy work and litigation aimed at encouraging States, from the US to European States, to implement such accountability mechanisms where drones – or complicit acts – are concerned.
I greatly enjoyed my time at Reprieve. During these three incredible months, I had the benefit of seeing international law in action. Indeed, with Reprieve's combination of public advocacy and litigation, international law becomes a crucial tool used to achieve practical – and at times immediate – change, with the very real prospect of influencing State behaviour. It was also a real pleasure to be able to apply my learning on the BCL to visibly positive outcomes.
I wholeheartedly recommend applying to work at Reprieve to anyone interested in working in an environment where international law is applied to practical effect, to uphold the rule of law and help the most vulnerable in society.