Children in armed conflict – the impact of drones

The number of children killed in drone strikes, as highlighted by the work of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, has been the subject of on-going concern.  For example, currently it is believed that in Pakistan, 168-197 children have been killed by drone strikes.  This is combined with concerns at the broader effects of drone use on children.  In March, the APPG heard from a forensic psychologist, Dr Peter Schaapveld, about his research on the psychological impact of drone strikes in rural Yemen.  His findings highlighted cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and noted that for “nearly all of the subjects …they continue to be affected by and prevented from recovery by the presence of drones”.  For children, this was manifested in poor behaviour, a refusal to attend school and disruptions to daily life, among other issues.

On 12 June 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur on children and armed conflict published her annual report, relevant to the period January to December 2012.  The report echoed the concerns noted above, namely the numbers of children killed by drones and the impact on their psychosocial health.  Particular note was made of the

mixed use of armed and surveillance drones [which] has resulted in permanent fear in some communities… hindering the ability of such communities to protect their children.

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New beginnings? Drone strikes in Pakistan

On May 9th the Peshawar High Court ruled that drone strikes in Pakistan, undertaken by the United States, were illegal and should be considered a war crime.  Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Musarrat Hilali were on the two-judge bench that heard the petitions.

The case was brought by the Foundation for Fundamental Freedoms, a legal rights charity based in the country, on behalf of the families of victims killed in a 17 March 2011 strike on a tribal jirga [community assembly] in the Datta Khel area.  The jirga had been called to resolve a dispute over a chromite mine; the attack killed over 50 people, the majority of whom were civilians, and  provoked an outcry at the time.  The Pakistani military chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was quoted as saying: “It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens, including elders of the area, was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,”. Continue reading

The next generation: the UN considers the potential of lethal autonomous robots

In late May, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, issued his report to the Human Rights Council on lethal autonomous robots.  He defined these as “weapon systems that, once activated, can select and engage targets without human intervention”.  His concern at the development of this technology was the inability of the legal frameworks of both international humanitarian law and international human rights law to adequately govern the use of lethal autonomous robots.  The report highlighted the impact of this technology, particularly on the psychological and physical distance from war that they allowed, which reduced the concerns normally associated with armed conflict.  In this respect, lethal autonomous robots “seem to take problems that are present with drones and high-altitude airstrikes to their factual and legal extreme”.

Among his recommendations, Heyns called for the Human Rights Council to ask “States to declare and implement national moratoria on “at least the testing, production, assembly, transfer, acquisition, deployment and use of LARs until such time as an internationally agreed upon framework on the future of LARs has been established.”  Though he stopped short of going as far as the call for a ban made by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which launched in April.  Continue reading

Beyond the skies – the rise of amphibious unmanned vehicles

The development and use of unmanned vehicles has so far been concentrated on those that fly. However, the realisation that this technology can be applied to different environments, for use on land and water, for example, has seen the development of new types of drones.  Amphibious unmanned vehicles encompass unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).  The development of new kinds of USVs is speeding up with the recent testing of the latest system, the Eclipse, by a US based firm 5G International; their new unmanned stealth boat is being designed in conjunction with Al Seer Marine, based in Abu Dhabi.  5G International have identified a number of areas, as highlighted in an accompanying report, where they believe USVs could be productive in combating maritime problems, such as piracy and human trafficking, in areas such as the Straits of Malacca and the Strait of Gibraltar. 5G International indicate that their new USV could be a useful tool in the prevention of piracy – the fact that these vehicles operate on the surface of the water provides, according to 5G, a visual deterrent, as well as being able to directly engage craft. Further uses include the potential for their craft to be used in searching for mines.  Continue reading