Some weapons are prohibited by a specific multilateral treaty regime and others by customary law. Neither source of prohibition applies to unmanned combat vehicles (UCVs). In the absence of a specific legal prohibition, UCVs can lawfully be deployed in armed conflict provided their use is consistent with so-called general principles of international humanitarian law (IHL). These general principles limit or restrict the circumstances in which UCVs can lawfully be deployed. In combat operations militaries utilising UCV technology are closely scrutinised and generally do try to ensure compliance with IHL. The real concerns lie with dubious usage of UCVs in covert operations where the IHL framework seems to provide a conveniently permissive legal regime, there is an apparent absence of any effective review of compliance with IHL and no accountability for alleged violations of the law. In some circumstances it is highly questionable whether IHL is the applicable legal framework. cl
Tim McCormack is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Tasmania and is the Special Adviser on International Humanitarian Law to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Meredith Hagger (LLB(Hons)) is a research assitant at the University of Tasmania.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors' alone.
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© 2011 Journal of Law, Information & Science and Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania.