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Unmanned Drones Could Be Banned, Says Senior Judge
Unmanned drones could be banned from use in conflicts, Lord Bingham, one of Britain's most senior judges has suggested.
Lord Bingham, who retired last year as a senior law lord, said the aircraft could follow other weapons considered "so cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance" in being consigned to the history books.
He likened drones, which have killed hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gaza, to cluster bombs and landmines.
Lord Bingham made the comments to the British Institute of International and Comparative Law in an interview which addressed the issue of the state being bound by the rule of law.
"Are there, for example, and this goes to conflict, not post-conflict situations, weapons that ought to be outlawed?" he said.
"From time to time in the history of international law various weapons have been thought to be so cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance. I think cluster bombs and landmines are the most recent examples.
"It may be - I'm not expressing a view - that unmanned drones that fall on a house full of civilians is a weapon the international community should decide should not be used."
His comments are likely to lead to further calls for new international rules to protect civilians from attacks by the pilotless aircraft.
Drones have become an important tool in combating the Taliban in remote regions of Afghanistan, which are difficult to access by land and leave soldiers vulnerable to attack.
They have proved successful in eliminating several high-profile leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, including Mohammed Atef, reputedly al-Qaeda's chief of military operations.
However, they have been known to make errors and kill civilians.
Israel was accused last week of using missile-firing drones to unlawfully kill at least 29 Palestinian civilians during the Gaza Strip war. The US admitted to 26 civilian deaths in a series of drone attacks that took place in May.
Britain, which currently deploys drones to gather battlefield intelligence, has indicated that it plans to use them as weapons in the future.
It was disclosed earlier this year that the Home Office has suggested using drones to help police gather evidence and track criminals to avoid putting officers at risk.
Last year, Lord Bingham said he believed that Britain violated "international law and the rule of law" by supporting the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.