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Sex and drone strikes: gender and identity in targeting and casualty analysis

sex-and-drone-strikes-coverThis paper from Reaching Critical Will and Article 36 addresses concerns that the sex of individuals is being used as a signifier to designate people as militants in drone strike targeting decisions and post-strike analysis of casualties.


Lack of transparency around armed drone operations makes it difficult to know what standards are used to determine how individuals come to constitute a legal target in the eyes of armed drone users. However, there are some indications that the United States uses maleness as a signifier of militancy.

The blanket categorisation of adult men as militants raises moral, legal, social, and policy concerns in a number of areas:

  • It erodes the protection that civilians should be afforded in armed conflict and violates many human rights, including the rights to life and due process;
  • It undermines accurate casualty recording, which is a crucial basis for military, legal, and political analysis of attacks and for evaluating the use of force more generally;
  • It suggests that sex can be taken as a key signifier of identity, which constitutes a form of gender-based violence and has broader implications in the reinforcement of gender essentialisms and problematic associations of masculinity with violence; and
  • It sets a precedent for blanket categorisations of people, which may have problematic implications as certain states move to develop and deploy weapons systems operating with greater autonomy in the identification of targets.

The identification of people as objects for attack will always be fraught with challenges and difficulties, but using sex or gender to systematically remove a person’s claim to protection as a civilian is unacceptable.

Published in October 2014 by Reaching Critical Will of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and Article 36

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