Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch's Arms Division, was instrumental in bringing about the 2008 convention banning cluster munitions, the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel mines, the 1995 protocol banning blinding lasers, and the 2003 protocol requiring clean-up of explosive remnants of war. He and Human Rights Watch co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Goose created the ICBL’s Landmine Monitor initiative, the first time that non-governmental organizations around the world have worked together in a sustained and coordinated way to monitor compliance with an international disarmament or humanitarian law treaty. In 2013, he and Human Rights Watch co-founded the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1993, Goose was a US congressional staffer and a researcher at the Center for Defense Information. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. in History from Vanderbilt University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, President.

Use of incendiary weapons in populated areas continues, and international action is needed to prevent their cruel effects.

In May–June 2019 alone, Human Rights Watch identified 27 incendiary weapon attacks by the Syrian-Russian military alliance in Syria. These strikes, most of which took place in Idlib governorate, endangered civilians and scorched valuable agricultural areas. Use of incendiary weapons on May 25 in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, for example, left approximately 175,000 square meters of burned farmland.

Since November 2012, Human Rights Watch has used open-source material and interviews to identify almost 150 incendiary weapon attacks in Syria. One 2018 attack caused more than 260 casualties. The total number of attacks is likely much higher because some go unreported and others are not recorded by visual media so cannot be investigated.

Incendiary weapons, which produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance, cause excruciating burns that are difficult to treat and lead to long-term physical and psychological injury. The weapons also start fires that can destroy civilian objects and infrastructure.

Protocol III to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), adopted in 1980, prohibits certain uses of incendiary weapons, but its restrictions have failed to stop the civilian harm seen in Syria and elsewhere. The CCW protocol has two major loopholes. First, it prohibits the use of air-delivered incendiary weapons in “concentrations of civilians,” but has weaker regulations for ground-launched models, many of which have been used this year in Syria.

Second, the current definition of incendiary weapons arguably does not cover multipurpose munitions, such as white phosphorus, because the definition is based on the purpose for which the weapons were “primarily designed,” rather than on their effects. White phosphorus causes comparable harm, however. It can burn people to the bone and reignite in cleaned wounds once bandages are removed.

Most countries that spoke out on incendiary weapons over the past year recognized the importance of closing these loopholes. During the annual CCW meeting’s session on Protocol III in November 2018, at least a dozen countries called for action. They recommend amending the protocol or at least conducing a more in-depth review of its adequacy.

Even states that did not favor strengthening the protocol expressed a willingness to set aside additional time for discussion in 2019. But CCW operates by consensus, and a Russian veto led to the removal of incendiary weapons from this year’s agenda.

This procedural setback should not deter states from standing firm in their support for concrete action on incendiary weapons. Use of these weapons has not stopped, and international progress on the issue should not either. Countries still have opportunities to condemn use and support stronger law. They can speak out in First Committee statements this month, and they can address the topic during CCW’s November session on reviewing the operation and status of the protocols.

In the short-term, states should insist on setting aside time in 2020 to examine the implementation and adequacy of Protocol III. They should then plan to make concrete legal change by amending the protocol at CCW’s 2021 Review Conference.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you Mr. Chair.

I am the Silicon Valley Lead for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the rapidly growing coalition of more than 130 non-governmental organizations in 60 countries working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems.

It’s clear that the increasing technological capacity for autonomy in weapons systems is raising a host of fundamental ethical, moral, legal, accountability and security concerns. Weapons systems that select and engage targets without meaningful human control would cross the threshold of acceptability and must be prohibited.

To ensure such problematic technology does not escape regulation, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots calls on states to launch negotiations on a treaty to preserve meaningful human control over the use of force. Such a treaty should apply to the range of weapons systems that select and engage targets on the basis of sensor inputs, that is, systems where the object to be attacked is determined by sensors rather than by humans; it should prohibit systems that would not allow meaningful human control; and it should establish positive obligations to ensure that other system are appropriately constrained.

The goal of establishing limits to deal with the killer robots threat is one that is now widely shared by many states, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and non-governmental organizations. Demands for a new treaty to ban killer robots have the firm support of the technology sector, including dozens of companies and thousands of artificial intelligence experts, roboticists, scientists and tech workers. I hear these concerns every day in my work, and people are eager to find ways to support our shared goal of banning autonomous weapons.

Here at this 74th session of the UN General Assembly, we again see strong agreement that retaining meaningful human control over the use of force is a humanitarian priority, legal necessity and an ethical obligation.

This can be seen in the way in which the foreign ministers of France, Germany and other nations participating in the Alliance for Multilateralism initiative identified the killer robots threat along with climate change and four other issues of international concern as deserving of an urgent multilateral response.

The same goal, of ‘developing a normative framework’ on this issue, is also found in the draft report of the 2019 meetings of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts. However, in the face of persistent opposition from Russia, it is far from clear if such an objective can be endorsed at the CCW’s annual meeting in Geneva next month.

This is not due to a lack of constructive engagement on the part of the great majority of countries that have participated in the CCW meetings on this topic since 2014. The CCW has been building a shared understanding on this issue – but struggles to agree on credible recommendations for multilateral action due to the objections of a handful of military powers, most notably Russia and the United States. Yet again, a few states can abuse a concept of ‘consensus’ to curb the ambition of a majority of the participating states, preventing a more focused mandate that would produce a more focused conversation.

It’s time to begin charting a new pathway forward.  Commitments to vague ‘normative frameworks’ and additional ‘guiding principles’ are a form of diplomatic treading water. An effective legal instrument is both achievable and necessary on this issue. 

Mr. Chair, at this First Committee, we hear a lot of talk about the need for strong multilateral action to safeguard and strengthen the rules-based international order that governs this planet. We concur, but we want to see legislative action not just more empty rhetoric.

States that want to ensure meaningful human control over the use of force should speak in favour of negotiations to address this issue through a legal instrument. This is the normative framework that’s needed to future proof humanity from this serious threat. We stand ready to work with all states that are committed to achieve this goal.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Two men carry replacement windows through a school in eastern Ukraine. The old windows were blown out from the blast of explosive weapon

© Bede Sheppard

I was confused by the horizontal strips of red tape stuck to the walls of School Number 1 in Marinka, a small city in the government-controlled area of eastern Ukraine. The principal explained that in case of attack, students should shelter with their heads below the red lines to avoid injury from a nearby explosion.

I visited the school in November 2015, amid the conflict that began in 2014 and continues today.

The dangers from explosive weapons used in populated areas were the focus of a two-day international conference that concluded today in Vienna, Austria. More than 130 countries attended to discuss how to reduce the harms caused by these weapons in towns and cities.

Experts explained that wounds from explosive weapons with large area effects, as they are known, can be especially severe for children, whose smaller and still-developing bodies are particularly vulnerable, and that children are especially difficult to treat and rehabilitate.

When the spaces that children need to be safe – homes, schools, and hospitals –­ are damaged or destroyed, there are also knock-on effects on their rights to shelter, health care, and education.

In a major development, the conference concluded with nearly universal support for developing a politically binding commitment by governments to take steps to address this problem.

Many agreed with the position of Human Rights Watch and the International Network on Explosive Weapons that the most important step would be a commitment to stop or at least avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. Austria and Ireland will now champion consultations in Geneva to draft such a declaration, with the next meeting on November 18.

All countries committed to minimizing the harm to civilians caused by bombing and shelling cities, towns, and villages should support this process as it continues in Geneva. A political declaration should address both the immediate and reverberating effects when explosive weapons are used in populated areas. It should include a commitment to assist victims in a non-discriminatory manner and facilitate humanitarian and protection measures.

The declaration should help build a community among countries committed to making progress in this area and allow them to share positive practice and experiences, so that children everywhere never have need to duck and cover in school.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thanks for the floor.  I’m Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch.  Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

I thank this interesting panel, and indeed the two previous panels. This has been a highly informative day, though also highly disturbing given the subject. 

It has also been energizing, with many calls for action, and in particular calls for the development of a political declaration committing states to better protect civilians from attacks on urban areas.

The three panels have demonstrated conclusively that the main cause of civilian harm from armed conflict is the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. 

This is especially notable when one takes into account not just the immediate harm (deaths and injuries), but also the long-term harm from reverberating effects (on infrastructure, electricity, water, and other critical services).

As a result of the unacceptable risks they impose on civilians, explosive weapons with wide area effects should not be used in populated areas.

This should be the key thrust of a political declaration.

My question for the panel is: what steps or measures (technical, policy, other) can you identify that could be taken to facilitate the avoidance of the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas?

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots stands outside the United Nations in New York during the General Assembly in 2018. 

© 2018 Clare Conboy

(New York) – France, Germany, and other nations that are committed to a rules-based international order should begin negotiations on a new international treaty to ban preemptively lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as fully autonomous weapons or killer robots.

On September 26, 2019, foreign ministers from France, Germany, and dozens of other countries endorsed a declaration at the United Nations addressing lethal autonomous weapons systems.

“This declaration is yet another step down the path leading to the inevitable treaty that’s needed to prevent a grim future of killing by machine,” said Mary Wareham, arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “If these political leaders are really serious about tackling the killer robots threat, then they should open negotiations on a treaty to ban them and require meaningful human control over weapons systems and the use of force.”

The foreign ministers participating in the “Alliance for Multilateralism” initiative that France and Germany spearheaded share the common goal of promoting a “rules-based international order” and have committed to address killer robots along with climate change and four other “politically relevant” issues. The political declaration endorsed during the annual opening of the UN General Assembly in New York marks the first time such a high-level group has acknowledged the killer robots threat.

The killer robots declaration shows that efforts to tackle this urgent challenge are swiftly ascending the multilateral agenda, Human Rights Watch said.

Since 2014, more than 90 countries have met eight times at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) to discuss concerns raised by killer robots. Most of the participating nations wish to negotiate a new treaty with prohibitions and restrictions in order to retain meaningful human control over the use of force. Yet, a small number of military powers – most notably Russia and the United States – have blocked progress toward that objective. As a result, while the talks were formalized in 2016, they still have not produced a credible outcome.

At the last CCW meeting in August 2019, Russia and the United States again opposed proposals to negotiate a new treaty on killer robots, calling such a move “premature.”

Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urge states party to the convention to agree in November to begin negotiations next year on a new treaty that requires meaningful human control over the use of force, which would effectively prohibit fully autonomous weapons. Only a new international law can effectively address the multiple ethical, moral, legal, accountability, security, and technological concerns raised by killer robots, Human Rights Watch said.

A total of 29 countries have explicitly called for a ban on killer robots: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China (on use only), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, El Salvador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, the Holy See, Iraq, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the State of Palestine, Uganda, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

The new political declaration on killer robots is unambitious as it falls far short of the new international ban treaty sought by so many. It is ambiguous as it endorses a goal discussed at the Convention on Conventional Weapons of “developing a normative framework,” but there is little agreement among countries about what that means in practice. Some countries view such a framework as guidelines that would not amend existing international law, while others regard it as a new international treaty to prohibit or restrict lethal autonomous weapons systems.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which began in 2013, is a coalition of 118 nongovernmental organizations in 59 countries that is working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons and require meaningful human control over the use of force.

“It’s obvious that a new treaty to prevent killer robots is desperately needed to ensure a successful rules-based international order,” Wareham said. “Pressure to regulate will intensify the longer it takes nations to commit to negotiate the killer robots treaty.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Sanaa on August 25, 2017, killing at least 16 civilians, including 7 children, and wounding another 17, including 8 children. After an international outcry, the coalition said that it carried out the attack, but provided no details on the coalition forces involved.  

© 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi

“The future for our defence sector is a very bright one.”

So said Fleur Thomas, head of exports for the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, as her government prepares to help host Europe’s biggest arms fair in London this week. Many foreign countries will be represented, including several the UK considers to have serious human rights issues, including Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Saudi Arabia will also send delegates to the fair, despite the UK suspending new arms sales to the kingdom following a landmark court ruling in June.

The Court of Appeal ruling laid bare the UK government’s cynical policy of approving arms sales to the Saudis whilst ignoring multiple laws of war violations by the Saudi-led coalition in its disastrous war in Yemen, some using British-made weapons. The court found that the UK government’s decision-making when authorizing arms sales to Saudi Arabia is fundamentally flawed, and rightly led the government to immediately suspend new arms exports – for now.

The ruling has also forced the government to review its decisions on authorizing Saudi arms sales and requires it to properly examine the Saudis’ terrible record in Yemen. This will be a welcome change from the UK’s previous position, when it chose time and again to ignore mounting evidence from independent experts – including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations – of the Saudis’ callous disregard for civilian lives.

But June’s courtroom victory gives only temporary respite. The fear is the UK government will, after a brief cooling off period, announce it has reconsidered Saudi’s actions in Yemen, decided there is nothing to worry about, and reauthorize arms sales.

This should not be allowed to happen. Too many lives are at stake. This week, Human Rights Watch sent Liz Truss, the UK’s new Secretary of State for International Trade, a comprehensive summary – some 402 pages long – of all the violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition that our researchers have documented.

Truss and the government should do the right thing. The documentation we and others are providing makes clear the harm that resuming weapons sales will cause.

And of course no one knows this more than the millions of Yemeni civilians who’ve spent years under bombardment, and now stand on the brink of famine. It’s time Britain put Yemeni lives ahead of its own arms sales.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, 35 States Parties have completed destruction of their stocks, collectively destroying nearly 1.5 million cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions. This represents 99% of all cluster munitions that States Parties have reported stockpiling. This stockpile destruction is one of the most visible examples of successful implementation of the ban convention.

We commend Botswana and Switzerland for completing the destruction of their stockpiled cluster munitions over the past year and in advance of the respective deadlines.

The Cluster Munition Coalition appreciates the updates we have heard today from Bulgaria, Peru, and South Africa in their ongoing work to destroy cluster munition stocks. We also see Slovakia is making considerable progress in destroying its cluster munitions.

However, it is not all good news. Guinea-Bissau missed its stockpile destruction deadline of 1 May 2019 and has been in violation of the convention since then. Moreover, Bulgaria has become the first State Party to request this ban convention extend its 1 October 2019 stockpile destruction deadline by another 18 months.

This has tarnished the until-now clean compliance record regarding implementation of the convention’s stockpile destruction provisions.

Guinea-Bissau last participated in a meeting of the convention in 2015, when it attended the First Review Conference. It is nearly seven years late in delivering its initial transparency report, required by Article 7 of the ban convention. We know that Guinea-Bissau possesses stocks of cluster munitions, as it has said several times in the past that it would need financial and technical assistance to destroy them.

There is also evidence that Guinea imported cluster munitions in the past, before joining the convention. But it also has not provided a transparency report for the convention. This is essential to understand if it has stocks to destroy by its ban convention deadline, which is 1 April 2023.

It is important that signatories that possess cluster munitions, such as Indonesia and Nigeria, take steps to ratify and provide information on those stocks. Cyprus is the last European Union member state to have signed but not yet ratified the convention, and it still has not disclosed any information on its cluster munition stocks or efforts to destroy them.

It is essential that States Parties and signatories to the convention that need help to destroy their cluster munition stocks receive financial, technical, and other support.

Before concluding, it is necessary to highlight the fact that most States Parties have chosen not to retain any cluster munitions for demining training and research purposes, as permitted by the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Yet 13 States Parties are doing so.

We welcome the important announcement by the Netherlands today that it has destroyed three-quarters of the cluster munitions that it originally retained for research and training purposes. The Cluster Munition Coalition was pleased to see Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain all reduced the number of cluster munitions retained for these purposes during 2018.

This shows that the initial amounts retained by States Parties were likely too high and did not constitute the “minimum number absolutely necessary” for the permitted purposes, as required by the convention. In the view of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the number of cluster munitions that states should retain under the convention is zero.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, Mr. President.

Overall compliance with the Convention on Cluster Munitions has been commendable. Indeed, at last year’s Meeting of States Parties, we lauded compliance as without fault, other than urging a better record on transparency reporting and national implementation legislation.

Unfortunately, this near perfect record has been blemished this year by Guinea-Bissau’s failure to meet its stockpile destruction deadline (of May 1, 2019) and its failure to submit an extension request. It is the first State Party to do so, and it is currently in violation of the convention. Efforts by many to reach out to Guinea-Bissau have been unsuccessful.

We urge Guinea-Bissau to submit its long-overdue initial Article 7 report, including details on its stockpile, to develop an urgent destruction plan, and to submit an extension request immediately. In this way, Guinea-Bissau can come back into compliance and other States Parties can provide any needed assistance with destruction, in the spirit of cooperative compliance.

It is also regrettable that Bulgaria will miss its stockpile destruction deadline (of October 1, 2019). It will remain in compliance by virtue of having submitted an extension request (of 18 months), but this is the first such request from a State Party. We heard on Monday that Peru also expects to submit a request.

The CMC and many States Parties have been saying for years that there should be no need fo any State Party to submit a stockpile destruction extension request, if they have demonstrated appropriate political will and exercised proper due diligence—and started in a timely fashion.  After all, the obligation is to destroy stocks “as soon as possible,” and up to now, most States Parties completed well in advance of their deadlines.

Still, the record of successful compliance is impressive. There have never been any instances or even allegations of any State Party using cluster munitions, or producing or transferring cluster munitions. Together, States Parties have destroyed 99% of their reported stockpiled cluster munitions.  Botswana and Switzerland completed destruction in the past year.

Regarding three other compliance matters:

Some 89% of States Parties have provided initial transparency reports, an admirable number. However, compliance with the annual reporting requirement is not impressive, only 63% compared to 70% a year ago. States Parties can do much better.

Only 31 States Parties have enacted specific legislation to enforce implementation of the convention’s provisions, including Afghanistan this year.  It had been several years since a state had been added to that list.

The convention allows States Parties to retain live cluster munitions and submunitions for training and research purposes. Most see no need to do so; only 13 are retaining. The three with the biggest numbers (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium) have been reducing the amounts substantially. But five States Parties have not destroyed any since first reporting they would retain (BiH, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Slovakia, Sweden). It is still unclear if the current holdings by these states constitute the “minimum number absolutely necessary” as required by the convention.

We hope, Mr. President, with the Second Review Conference looming next year, that Guinea-Bissau will come into compliance, that all deadlines will be met by all States Parties, that initial and annual transparency reporting will reach a 100% compliance rate, and that all those states in the process of adopting national legislation or other implementation measures will do so before the Review Conference.

In closing, the global stigma against cluster munitions remains strong. Nearly all states not party are in de facto compliance with the prohibitions on use, production, and transfer.  The sole, glaring exception is still Syria, which continues to use cluster munitions with active support from Russia. It is crucial that States Parties continue to denounce any use of cluster munitions by any actor under any circumstances.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The remnant of a payload section of a 9M27K-series 220mm cluster munition rocket in Idlib, Syria.

© 2019 Syria Civil Defense

(Geneva) – No state party to the 2008 treaty prohibiting cluster munitions has violated the prohibition on using these weapons, while very few outside the treaty engage in this banned activity either, Human Rights Watch said today during the release of the Cluster Munition Monitor 2019 report.

“With the glaring exception of Syria, which has yet to join the ban treaty, it appears that the stigma against cluster munitions is strong and sticking, even with those who haven’t signed on,” said Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and an editor of the report. “It is in the interest of every country be on the right side of history by acting to prevent further human suffering from these indiscriminate weapons.”

Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery, rockets, and mortars, or dropped by aircraft. They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving dangerous duds that can maim and kill like landmines for years.

Cluster Munition Monitor 2019 is the tenth annual report of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations co-founded and chaired by Human Rights Watch. The group works to ensure that all countries join and adhere to the 2008 treaty banning cluster munitions and requiring clearance and victim assistance.

According to the report, the 106 states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are carrying out its provisions with vigor and determination. Another 14 countries have signed, but not yet ratified. There have been no reports or allegations of new use, production, or transfers of cluster munitions by any state party since the treaty was adopted in 2008.

Yet Syrian government forces, with Russia’s assistance, continued to use cluster munitions in Syria. Neither is a state party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since mid-2012, the Monitor has recorded at least 674 cluster munition attacks in Syria, including at least 38 since July 2018. Russian forces deployed in Syria possess stockpiles of cluster munition, as documented in photographs published by media outlets.

While the number of reported cluster munition attacks has decreased since mid-2017 as Syrian government forces have regained areas previously held by opposition armed groups, the actual number is most likely far higher, and new use often goes unrecorded.

Cluster Munition Monitor could not independently confirm allegations of new cluster munition use in Libya, which is not a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The last country to accede to the treaty was Sri Lanka in March 2018. Its permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Aliyar Lebbe Abdul Azeez, has prioritized expanding the treaty’s membership since taking over the presidency of the convention in September 2018, and three signatories have ratified since then: Gambia, Namibia, and the Philippines.

Since the convention was adopted on May 30, 2008, 35 states parties have destroyed a collective total of nearly 1.5 million cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions, 99 percent of all cluster munitions that states parties have reported stockpiling. 

Switzerland completed the destruction of its stockpile on March 19, while Botswana did so on September 18, 2018. They and states parties Bulgaria, Peru, and Slovakia destroyed a total of 1,079 cluster munitions and more than 46,000 submunitions during 2018.

“While the convention’s stockpile destruction provisions have been implemented with impressive results, Guinea-Bissau and Bulgaria are tarnishing the until-now clean compliance record,” Wareham said.

Guinea-Bissau missed its stockpile destruction deadline of May 1, 2019 and has been in violation of the convention since then. Bulgaria has given states parties a request to extend its October 1, 2019 stockpile destruction deadline by another 18 months, until April 1, 2021. It is the first state party to make such a request under the convention.

According to the new report, there were 149 casualties from cluster munitions in 2018, most from unexploded submunitions left-over from attacks. This is a continuation of the significant decline since 971 victims were reported in 2016.

There were 80 new casualties from cluster munitions in Syria in 2018, the lowest annual figure since the first victims were reported in the country in 2012. During 2018, Afghanistan, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, South Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen also recorded new casualties from old cluster munition remnants.

A total of 144 countries, including 33 non-signatories, voted in December in favor of an annual United Nations General Assembly resolution promoting the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Zimbabwe, which has not signed the treaty, was the only country to vote against the resolution, as Russia abstained for the first time, after voting no in 2015-2017.

Cluster Munition Monitor 2019 will be presented at the Ninth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which opens at the United Nations in Geneva on September 2.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mr. Chair, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots sincerely appreciates all the work that has gone into producing these recommendations for the draft report of the 2019 Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) and would like to provide a few brief comments on them. The recommendations matter because the last CCW Review Conference tasked this Group to consider and recommend “options” for addressing emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.

The final paragraph of the recommendations calls for the next two years of discussion to lead to a report to the 2021 Review Conference that would “continue the clarification and development of normative and operational frameworks.”

We welcome the recommendation to increase the period of time allocated to these GGE talks over the next two years. However, without a stronger mandate we are concerned that this will mean two more years of talk without concrete actions.

The recommendation to focus on “normative and operational frameworks” is unambitious to us because it does not explicitly call for a legally binding instrument. In addition, it is still unclear what such frameworks actually are or what the timeframe should be for their negotiation.

Constructive ambiguity may aid diplomacy here at the CCW, but will do little to quell growing public concerns and rising expectations that states will take strong action on this serious challenge.

By accepting this vague recommendation, the GGE would embrace ambiguity, postpone decisions about the ultimate goal of this process, and fail to show a clear way forward for dealing with killer robots.

Mr. Chair, we’re deeply concerned by the downplaying of human control here at the CCW. The need to retain some form of human control over the use of force and critical functions of weapons systems has dominated discussions in the forum since these talks began in 2014. More than a dozen states have raised the importance of this today. We welcome the new reference to human control in paragraph 24(d) of the latest draft report’s recommendations.

Finally, we see very limited attention to ethical, moral, humanitarian and human rights dimensions in these recommendations. The draft report calls for work into legal, technological, and military streams, but it downplays those broader considerations.

While the latest version adds a reference to “ethical acceptability,” much more attention should be drawn to these considerations given that they have been widely raised. Today the Holy See and a dozen states have referred to the need to address ethical and moral considerations.

We encourage High Contracting Parties to the CCW to be bolder and stronger: recommend a mandate to negotiate a new legally binding instrument on lethal autonomous weapons systems, as so many states have requested over the years. The CCW must produce a credible result.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

At the United Nations in Geneva the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots called on governments to not allow the development of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without any human intervention.

© 2018 Clare Conboy

(Geneva) – Russia, the United States, and a handful of other nations investing in autonomous weapons are preventing efforts to start negotiations on a new treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force, Human Rights Watch said today.

More than 70 member countries of the Convention on Conventional Weapons will meet in Geneva on August 20 and 21, 2019 for their eighth meeting since 2014 to discuss concerns raised by lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots.” But the Convention on Conventional Weapons’ “all talk, no action” approach indicates that it is incapable of dealing with this threat, Human Rights Watch said.

“Most governments want to negotiate a new treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, which coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “But with a small number of countries blocking any progress, these diplomatic talks increasingly look like an attempt to buy time and distract public attention rather than to urgently address the serious challenges raised by killer robots.”

Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urge states party to the convention to agree to begin negotiations in November for a new treaty to require meaningful human control over the use of force, which would effectively prohibit fully autonomous weapons. Only new international law can effectively address the multiple moral, legal, accountability, security, and technological concerns raised by killer robots.

The Convention on Conventional Weapons talks began in 2014 and were formalized three years later, but still have not produced anything more than some non-binding principles. Russia and the United States, as well as Australia, Israel, and the United Kingdom, opposed calls to move to negotiate a new treaty at the last meeting on killer robots in March, calling such a move premature.

At the previous talks, almost all countries have called for retaining some form of human control over the use of force, which is effectively equivalent to a ban on weapons that lack such control. To date, 28 countries have explicitly supported a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons.

There is increasing evidence that developing these weapons would run contrary to the dictates of public conscience, Human Rights Watch said. Thousands of scientists and artificial intelligence experts, more than 20 Nobel Peace Laureates, and more than 160 religious leaders and organizations of various denominations also support a ban on killer robots. In 2018, Google released a set of ethical principles that includes a pledge not to develop artificial intelligence for use in weapons.

Killer robots would be unable to apply either compassion or nuanced legal and ethical judgment to decisions to use lethal forcce. Without these human qualities, the weapons would face significant obstacles in ensuring the humane treatment of others and showing respect for human life and dignity. 

According to international humanitarian law, the dictates of public conscience and principles of humanity should be upheld when there is no specific relevant treaty, which is the case with killer robots.

The 28 countries that have called for the ban are: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China (use only), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, El Salvador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, the Holy See, Iraq, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the State of Palestine, Uganda, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which began in 2013, is a coalition of 112 nongovernmental organizations in 56 countries that is working to preemptively ban the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.

“Both prohibitions and positive obligations are needed to ensure that systems that select and engage targets do not undermine ethical values and are always subject to meaningful human control,” Goose said. “The public expects greater efforts from governments to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapons, before they proliferate widely – in fact, nothing less than a legally-binding ban treaty.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mr. Chair, I am speaking on behalf of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, but should note that next week we will have a delegation of 45 people from 20 non-governmental organizations in 19 countries.  

We are grateful to you for holding these informal consultations and for your dedicated work preparing the draft “conclusions and recommendations” non-paper. We recognize and appreciate the effort that has gone into drafting a product that caters to the diversity of views that is evident in this Group of Governmental Experts (GGE).

However, the proposed measures contained in the draft non-paper are inadequate and insufficient. They do not reflect the will of the majority to create new international law on this issue.

Mr. Chair, it is increasingly clear that these CCW talks on fully autonomous weapons have become more technical and less values-based since they were formalized by the Fourth Review Conference in 2016.

We’re worried that the CCW is no longer looking at key concerns such as ethics and morality, potential humanitarian impact, and human rights. It is instead prioritizing consideration of traditional national security concerns—be they legal, military, technical—over broader ones affecting all of humanity.

We firmly agree with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that a “human-centered approach” is needed here at the CCW. Look at how the phrase “human control” is gradually being written out of the CCW lexicon and replaced by weaker wordings of human judgment, human element, human machine interaction, human responsibility, and so on. To us, the concept of human control is stronger and necessary because it is clear and comprehensive, encompassing both judgment and actions.

We are disappointed, but not surprised that the best proposal the CCW can muster after all this time is recommend the 2021 Review Conference develop a “normative framework” on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems. The reference to a “normative framework” is ambiguous. Would this be a legally-binding instrument or another type of product?

The proposed mandate is unambitious as it seeks to lock in the multilateral consideration of the killer robots concerns into two more years of CCW talk but not action.

As you know, we regard more guiding principles and other measures that fall short of new international law as completely insufficient to prevent fully autonomous weapons.

This is why we seek clear, binding rules to help stigmatize problematic weapons technology and influence all actors, including states not party and non-state actors, and reinforce and clarify existing international law. A ban treaty is imperative to retain meaningful human control over the use of force, specifically over the critical functions of selecting and engaging targets.

If the CCW is deemed the appropriate framework for dealing with lethal autonomous weapons systems—as states here insist it is—then the only path forward is for states to launch negotiations on a new ban protocol or treaty. We’re not convinced that will be possible here at the CCW so we’re looking closely at the UN General Assembly and other avenues to pursue the negotiation of a new treaty.

Enshrining the principle of meaningful human control over the use of force requires both prohibitions and positive obligations to ensure that these weapons systems do not undermine ethical values.

Mr. Chair, before closing, I want to provide a couple of examples of the support that has been building towards the goal of prohibiting killer robots since the last informal consultation at the end of June.

Over the last year the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots coalition has nearly doubled in size, to a current total of 113 non-governmental organizations in 57 countries. As our numbers grow so does our ability to engage new endorsers and supporters. A growing number of tech workers, AI experts and companies support the call to ban killer robots.

The Campaign’s members are conducting research to deepen understandings and knowledge of the killer robots challenge. On Monday, 19 August, PAX, a Dutch co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, will release a new report investigating how tech companies are potentially contributing to the development of fully autonomous weapons.

Last month, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots participated in the 24th World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in the United States, a two-week event that brought together more than 42,000 scouts ages 14 to 17 years old from 150 countries. More than 1,400 Scouts participating in our workshops and thousands more passed through our exhibition, contributing their thoughts and ideas for future actions. Inspired by the young leaders we met at the Jamboree, the Campaign will continue gathering support from more than 50 million Scouts around the world and will engage national and regional scout organizations in the period leading to next the Jamboree in South Korea in 2023.

We have more to say, but will conclude here as we wish to hear what states have to say about the way forward.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Armed groups have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight for control in Catatumbo, northeastern Colombia, Human Rights Watch. 

The report, “The War in Catatumbo: Abuses by Armed Groups Against Civilians Including Venezuelan Exiles in Northeastern Colombia,” documents killings, disappearances, sexual violence, recruitment of children as soldiers, and forced displacement by the National Liberation Army (ELN), Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and a group that emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Armed groups use threats to gain control, including against community leaders and human rights defenders, some of whom have been killed. Venezuelans who fled the humanitarian emergency in their country are among the victims.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

Video: Attacks on Civilians in Border Area in Colombia

Armed groups have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight for control in Catatumbo, northeastern Colombia, Human Rights Watch said. 

(Bogotá) – Armed groups have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight for control in Catatumbo, northeastern Colombia, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 64-page report, “The War in Catatumbo: Abuses by Armed Groups Against Civilians Including Venezuelan Exiles in Northeastern Colombia,” documents killings, disappearances, sexual violence, recruitment of children as soldiers, and forced displacement by the National Liberation Army (ELN), Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and a group that emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Armed groups use threats to gain control, including against community leaders and human rights defenders, some of whom have been killed. Venezuelans who fled the humanitarian emergency in their country are among the victims.

“As armed groups fight for the void left by the FARC in Catatumbo, hundreds of civilians have been caught in the conflict,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Venezuelans who are fleeing the humanitarian emergency in their own country are being caught in this nexus of war and desperate flight.”

Graffiti on the wall of a brothel in Convención in the Catatumbo region, where most women working were Venezuelan exiles. The EPL (Popular Liberation Army) is one of the armed groups operating in the area.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Violence and abuses have increased in Catatumbo since the FARC demobilized in 2017 as part of its peace accord with the government. The Colombian government is falling short on its human rights obligations to protect civilians from abuses and to provide victims with redress. 

In April 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 80 people, including abuse victims, their relatives, community leaders, church representatives, human rights officials, local authorities, justice officials, and members of humanitarian and human rights organizations working in the area. Interviews were conducted in Catatumbo, as well as some in Cúcuta, the capital of North Santander province, and some by telephone.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed official reports and statistics, publications by nongovernmental and international organizations, and written testimony given to government officials by almost 500 victims of abuses committed in the context of the armed conflict. The total number of cases is most likely higher than that recorded by government authorities, given victims’ fear of retaliation by armed groups for exposing abuses, or Venezuelan victims’ fear of deportation.

“Those who are part of the conflict do not suffer what we, as the people in the countryside …, suffer,” said a teacher in a rural school who lost his foot when a landmine exploded just meters from the school grounds. “We are the ones paying for a conflict that they started.”

Limited immigration controls and better-paying jobs attract Venezuelans to the Catatumbo borderlands. At least 25,000 Venezuelans live in Catatumbo, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Desperate and often undocumented Venezuelans have been among those forcibly displaced and killed, and Venezuelan children have been recruited as soldiers.

In Catatumbo, more than 40,000 people have been displaced from their homes since 2017 – the majority during 2018 – according to government statistics. Some have been forcibly displaced. People have fled after armed groups threatened them for allegedly cooperating with competing armed groups or the government. People have also fled after being threatened for refusing to join an armed group.

OCHA reported that 109 people it considered civilians were killed by armed groups in 2018 alone. Armed groups have killed nine human rights defenders and community leaders, according to investigations by Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“Community leaders play a fundamental role to give voice to abuse victims and help reinstate the rule of law in remote areas of Colombia,” Vivanco said. “The Colombian government should increase its efforts to protect them and ensure that those responsible for these murders are held to account.”

Armed groups have been implicated in kidnappings and disappearances, as well as rape and other sexual violence.

Children as young as 12 have been forced to join an armed group after members threaten to kill them or their families, or they join for money. Human Rights Watch reviewed testimony in a dozen cases in which families fled after an armed group threatened or attempted to recruit a child.

Armed groups are also reportedly planting antipersonnel landmines in rural areas of Catatumbo, where the FARC had also previously used landmines. Four people have died and 65 have been injured by antipersonnel landmines in Catatumbo since 2017.

Colombian authorities have thus far failed to ensure justice for abuses committed by armed groups. As of April 2019, there were over 770 cases related to murders that occurred in Catatumbo since 2017. There have been convictions in 61 cases. Only two armed group members have been charged with murder, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The office has not charged anyone for threats, recruitment of children as soldiers, or enforced disappearances, which, under Colombian law, may be committed by both state and private actors. Two armed group members have been charged for forced displacement, but no one has been convicted; 480 cases remain pending.

Assistance to the displaced, provided for under Colombian law, has been slow and insufficient, said humanitarian workers in the region. Hundreds of people have lived in temporary shelters improvised by communities. Some shelters lacked furniture or running water. Authorities have also failed to adequately address risks to human rights identified by the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office.

In October 2018, the Colombian government created a Rapid Deployment Force to increase the number of military officers in Catatumbo by 5,600. Residents, human rights officials, and humanitarian workers have reported abusive behavior by soldiers directed at civilians, including accusing them of being complicit with guerrilla groups and questioning them at military checkpoints, exposing them to retaliation by armed groups. In April 2019, a soldier killed a demobilized FARC member.

To comply with its obligations under international and Colombian law, the Colombian government should put in place human rights-respecting strategies for the military and police to protect civilians. It should provide further support to prosecutors investigating abuses by armed groups and seek international support to aid people who have been displaced. It should also carry out a comprehensive assessment of the number of Venezuelans living in Catatumbo and their needs, and ensure that all Venezuelans can work legally in Colombia, including in safer parts of the country.

“The government’s efforts to increase its presence in Catatumbo through deploying the military needs to go hand-in-hand with broader efforts – like support for criminal investigations and humanitarian assistance – to protect the rights of farmers and Venezuelan exiles there,” Vivanco said.

For selected cases documented by Human Rights Watch, see below.

Beatriz (pseudonym) was raped in mid-2017. That day, she was at her job as a cook for agricultural laborers. Her husband was working on the same farm. At around 5 p.m., a group of uniformed men, their faces hidden under balaclavas, arrived, shouting why “the fuck” hadn’t the couple left since they had been “warned.” They asked if anyone else was on the farm. Beatriz’s husband said no, to protect the other workers.

The guerrillas sent men to look. Four, who had the ELN logo on their clothes, stayed. Two of them sexually assaulted Beatriz as the others made her husband watch. Beatriz lost consciousness and woke up two hours later in her husband’s arms. They fled to a nearby city, and, she said, only reported the incident several months later because of the shame and psychological trauma.

Dalila (pseudonym) lived between two mountain ridges where armed groups operate. The groups often fight among themselves, she reported to authorities, and the walls of her house are full of holes from the shootouts. One afternoon in early 2018, three men arrived at her house. They were armed and wearing uniforms, but Dalila said she did not know to which group they belonged. They told her they were going to take her oldest children, who were 17 and 14. Dalila said she told them they would have to kill her first. The men said she had a few hours to leave. She sent her two sons to another municipality where her sister lived. Dalila went back to sell her animals and fled to a nearby city. 

Alejandro Rodríguez (pseudonym), 34, is a primary teacher at a rural school in Catatumbo. Around 1 p.m. on February 5, 2019, Rodríguez went to look for a soccer ball that a student had kicked off school grounds, about 15 meters from where the students were playing. Rodríguez stepped on something that exploded, likely a landmine. Neighbors helped him get to the nearest town, several hours away. He lost his foot.

When we interviewed him in April, he said that nobody from the government had visited the area in the two months after the incident to see if there were other landmines near the school. He said he had moved to an urban area to receive medical treatment. In his rural community, he had heard shots nearly every day and children feared going to school, Rodríguez said.

Henry Pérez Ramírez, a 46-year-old community leader, went to check his crops early in the morning on January 26, 2016, and did not return, said his wife, Elibeth Murcia Castro. A man later told her that days before he had overheard Pérez Ramírez speaking on the phone with a FARC member. The FARC member had asked him questions about where the Colombian armed forces were operating and had requested a meeting on January 26.

Murcia Castro said Pérez Ramírez had previously received threats from the FARC member. She and her family desperately looked for him, and she filed complaints with judicial authorities and the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office, but his whereabouts remain unknown. “What I want the most is to find him,” she told us. “And not be like this, with this uncertainty, not knowing if he’s alive or if he’s dead.”

Enrique Pérez (pseudonym), 14, arrived with his mother in Catatumbo in February 2019. They left Trujillo state in Venezuela because, he said, his parents could no longer feed the family adequately. Some days, they only had one meal, and sometimes it was every other day. He had been a student in Venezuela but dropped out to work in the coca fields, under the blazing sun. At times, Venezuelans work only for a plate of food, he said. He said that he works alongside Colombian and Venezuelan children as young as 8, and that he would love to go back to school but must work.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am