Complaint filed against BT over facilitation of illegal US drone strikes

July 22, 2013

Human rights charity Reprieve has filed a complaint with the UK Government against telecoms company BT over its apparent facilitation of illegal, covert drone strikes carried out by the US.

BT has contracted with the US government to supply key communications infrastructure between a US military base in the UK, and Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the covert centre from which armed drones carry out lethal missions over Yemen. The contract, valued at around $23m, requires BT to provide services between RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire and Camp Lemonnier until 2017.

When asked by Reprieve for an explanation of the contract and of the company’s risk assessment procedures for contracts related to US counter-terrorism, BT Legal said it “does not disclose contractual matters”.

Reprieve is calling upon the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines to investigate BT’s possible contribution to the gross violations of international law and human rights that the use of drones in non-war zones entails. The OECD Guidelines are a crucial mechanism for holding corporations to account in respect of breaches of ethical principles, including human rights. The Guidelines are supported by National Contact Points which investigate and issue statements to ensure corporate responsibility for breaches.

In the complaint, Reprieve sets out a series of breaches committed by BT through its apparent facilitation of drone strikes, including that it is contributing to adverse human rights impacts in Yemen, which it has not sought to prevent or mitigate, and has not shown what human rights due diligence it carried out before entering into the contract.

Reprieve represents a number of individuals who have lost relatives in drone strikes or are affected by the ongoing use of drones in Yemen. Their testimony demonstrates the severity of the trauma inflicted upon communities – one client explained how following a strike, “villagers’ unease with drones and planes turned to terror. We all lived in a state of fear for months.” The National Contact Point will now invite submissions from BT and issue an Initial Assessment within three months.

Reprieve has also notified several of BT’s key shareholders of the complaint and called on them to seek information from the company.

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. Reprieve’s OECD complaint against BT is available here: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/media/downloads/2013_07_15_PUB_Complaint_to_UK_NCP_re_BT_plc.pdf