Humanitarian Law and New Technologies in armed conflict: an ICRC perspective

On May the 16th, INCIPE organized a working breakfast titled Humanitarian Law and New Technologies in Armed Conflict: An ICRC Perspective, presented by Vincent Bernard, Head of Law and Policy Forum of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The event was held in collaboration with the Embassy of Switzerland in Spain and the Spanish Red Cross.

Since its creation, International Red Cross has faced the application of technological advances to armed conflict. Today, we are living a new technological revolution that has brought new and deep changes to warfare in the 21st century. Among the new challenges that we have to face today we find cyberwarfare, the spectacular development of AI, the creation of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (the so-called “killer robots”), nanotechnology, and the chemical enhancement of soldiers. Even though these new technologies are not causing casualties yet, International Red Cross deems it necessary to preventively regulate the potential effects of these new weapons and make sure that they comply with the principles of International Humanitarian Law. New weapons systems are not born in legal loopholes. They must comply with the law: they must be used with precaution, they must distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, and collateral damage (non-combatant victims) has to be limited and proportional. Moreover, signatory states of the Geneva Conventions must verify the lawfulness of the new weapons they develop.

Today, International Red Cross focuses on two main topics: Lethal Autonomous Systems (LAWs) and cyberwarfare. Concerning LAWs, the focus is on drones and systems able to operate in a completely autonomous way. International Red Cross advocates for drones to be always controlled by humans in real time in order to be able to estimate collateral damage and act proportionally. International Law must be applied by human intelligence. International Red Cross believes that cyberwarfare rules should be no different to those regarding the use of any other type of weapon of attack and that states must clarify their position regarding the cyberwarfare and respect the limits established by the International Humanitarian Law. Cyberattacks on critical infrastructures or the banking system also harm the civilian population. International Red Cross’s criticisms of these new fields of warfare do not imply that they must be prohibited. Instead, they should be regulated and adapted to the International Humanitarian Law.

Finally, new technologies also have ha positive side for International Humanitarian Law. The Geneva-based organization uses facial recognition for family reunification and has developed a videogame to train its staff.

Pablo Blanco

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