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

(Paris) – Seventeen humanitarian and human rights organizations denounced threats to press freedom after three French journalists were summoned by French intelligence services for investigating the presence of French weapons in the conflict in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today.

The General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) will hear cases against Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal of the French investigative media outlet Disclose, and Benoît Collombat of Radio France’s investigation unit, as part of the preliminary investigation for “compromising national defence secrecy” opened by the Paris prosecutor’s office after France’s Ministry of the Armed Forces lodged a complaint.

On April 15, 2019 Disclose and its partners published classified documents by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM) confirming what Human Rights Watch, ACAT, Amnesty InternationalFIDH, the Observatoire des Armements, and other organizations have been highlighting for months. The organizations have reported that French military equipment purchased by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is involved in the war in Yemen, including in illegal attacks against civilian populations.

The documents revealed by Disclose also show that French authorities have no certainty about the use of French weapons in the war in Yemen, contrary to assurances given even in recent days by President Emmanuel Macron, the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, and the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, who were recipients of the DRM documents.

Since April 15, Disclose has continued to investigate the use of French weapons in Yemen in reporting on the arrival in Le Havre of a Saudi cargo ship scheduled to load French military equipment. Following heightened pressure from parliamentarians and other organizations, the ship finally left France last Friday without the planned cargo.

The undersigned nonprofits consider the information unveiled by Disclose and its partners to be of essential public interest. It confirms the major risk of French-made weapons being used in war crimes in Yemen, in breach of France’s international obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty, of which France is also one of the main defenders, and the European Union’s Common Position.

In this context, the threat of prosecution against the three journalists, reaffirmed last week by Parly, constitutes an unacceptable threat to press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources.

Collombat, Destal, and Livolsi have been threatened just for having done their job, without revealing ongoing French military operations or putting any French personnel in danger.

The undersigned organizations express full solidarity with the three journalists summoned this week. They call on the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of the Armed Forces and the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs to stop intimidation against the press and to guarantee the confidentiality of sources.

Signatories:

  1. ACAT
  2. Action Contre la Faim
  3. AIDL, Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés
  4. Amnesty International
  5. CARE France
  6. Collectif Solidarité Yémen / Yemen Solidarity Coalition
  7. Fédération Internationale des Ligues Droits de l’Homme (FIDH)
  8. Handicap International (HI)
  9. Human Right Watch
  10. Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH)
  11. Médecins du monde
  12. Observatoire des Armements
  13. Oxfam France
  14. Salam for Yemen
  15. STAND France, Mouvement étudiant de lutte contre les génocides et crimes de masse
  16. Sherpa
  17. SumOfUs
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – A Houthi-controlled warehouse that stored volatile material near homes and schools caught fire and detonated in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on April 7, 2019, causing the deaths of at least 15 children, Human Rights Watch and Mwatana for Human Rights said today. The massive blast injured more than 100 children and adults in the residential Sawan neighborhood. The groups could not determine the initial cause of the fire at the warehouse. Witnesses did not see or hear aircraft, but the Saudi Arabia-owned al-Arabiya published and broadcast – then deleted – a report that the Saudi-led coalition had carried out an airstrike in the area that day.

Shoes from panicked students left behind at al-Ra'ee school following an explosion in a Houthi-controlled warehouse in Sanaa on April 7, 2019 that killed and wounded children and other civilians. © 2019 Private

After the midday explosion, scores of Houthi security forces arrived at the site, fired warning shots, and beat and detained several people who tried to photograph the warehouse, witnesses said. For several days, Houthi forces removed large quantities of undisclosed materials from the site on flatbed trucks, and prevented human rights researchers from accessing the area until April 11.

“The Houthi authorities need to provide credible information and stop storing large concentrations of volatile materials in densely populated areas,” said Radhya al-Mutawakel, the chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights. “The Houthis played a role in the tragedy and should hold responsible officials to account and provide compensation to victims.”

Mwatana and Human Rights Watch determined, based on in-person interviews with witnesses, videos, and satellite imagery, that the contents of the warehouse had caught fire and exploded. The groups were unable to identify the warehouse contents, but available information shows that they were flammable and explosive, posing a foreseeable danger to civilians living and going to school in the area.

Witnesses to the explosion said that they did not see the initial cause of the fire at the warehouse, but none saw or heard aircraft or incoming munitions before the fire began, or at the time of the large explosion several minutes later. Four videos of the blast that bystanders recorded and uploaded to the internet within hours also do not indicate the cause of the fire, but show nothing to suggest an airstrike or incoming munition. Researchers did not observe craters that might have indicated an aerial bomb when they were first able to access the site days after the explosion. No craters are visible in photographs of the area that Xinhua news agency published on April 9.

The day of the explosion, al-Arabiya tweeted that the Saudi-led coalition – which has been fighting the Houthis since 2015 – had carried out airstrikes that day including on a “military police camp in the Sawan neighborhood” in eastern Sanaa, and repeated the statement at 12:59 p.m. in an online news story. In a television news broadcast, al-Arabiya reported that “a strike hit the military police camp in the east of Sana’a …  in addition to one of the depots belonging to the Houthis in al-Arbaeen Roundabout,” the name of an intersection about 250 meters south of the warehouse that exploded.

Researchers spoke to residents near two military police camps in eastern Sanaa, one located 3 kilometers southwest and the other 2 kilometers south of the warehouse, and to residents near the other roundabout in Sanaa called al-Arbaeen, about 10 kilometers south of the warehouse, but residents said they were unaware of any airstrikes on April 7.

Al-Arabiya later deleted the tweet and removed the television news broadcast from its website. On the evening of April 7, it reported that the coalition spokesperson, Col. Turki al-Malki, stated that the coalition had not targeted residential areas in Sanaa. The Houthis and some news reports attributed the deadly explosion to a coalition airstrike.

The warehouse blast destroyed a three-family home, badly damaged another home, and blew doors off their hinges and shattered windows at four nearby schools. The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, reported that “it was almost lunchtime and students were in class,” and dozens were killed and wounded.

The destroyed administration office at a school following an explosion in a Houthi-controlled warehouse in Sanaa on April 7, 2019 that killed and wounded children and other civilians.

© 2019 Private

Of the 15 children killed, Mwatana identified the names and ages of 10 girls and a boy who died at two schools, and 17 girls and 12 boys who were wounded, most of them 11 or 12 years old. At least 45 children were wounded, 5 critically, as well as at least 58 adults, based on interviews with people present at the two schools and at three private hospitals that received the dead and wounded. The actual death toll may be higher. Some blast victims who were in critical condition were evacuated to public hospitals run by Houthi authorities, where hospital officials did not agree to speak to human rights groups.

Students and teachers at al-Ra’ee public school, with roughly 2,000 students, located about 250 meters west of the explosion, identified nine schoolgirls there who died. The explosion caused many of the girls to run in panic along the balconies outside their classrooms to the stairwell, where some fell and were trampled, witnesses said. When the stairwell became blocked, some girls still on the top floor of the three-story building died when they jumped or fell from the building. Staff at one hospital said that three girls whose bodies were received at the hospital had been trampled to death, and that most wounded children admitted to the hospital had been cut by broken glass.

Some children at al-Ra’ee school “died in their classrooms,” Save the Children said, apparently due to wounds caused by the blast. Another schoolgirl died from unknown causes “due to lack of equipment and supplies in the hospital.” A Save the Children employee rescued a wounded 14-year-old girl who told him, “I will never go to school again.”

Human Rights Watch and Mwatana were unable to conclusively determine what material was stored in the Sawan facility. The researchers observed widespread blast damage, and the fuze of a hand grenade found near the warehouse. If Houthi forces stored material such as munitions or fuel for military purposes at the site, they would be in violation of the laws-of-war obligations to take all feasible precautions to avoid placing military targets within or near densely populated areas, and to protect civilians from the danger resulting from military operations.

“The Houthis’ decision to store volatile material near homes and schools despite the foreseeable risk to civilians led to the death and injury of dozens of schoolchildren and adults,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Houthis should stop covering up what happened in Sawan and start doing more to protect civilians under their control.”

Details about the Explosion

The following account is based primarily on interviews conducted in Sanaa with nine witnesses to the explosion at the warehouse, staff at three hospitals, satellite imagery, and four verified videos posted on the internet.

An overview satellite image of the damage area near two schools following a warehouse explosion on April 7, 2019, in Sanaa, Yemen. © 2019 Digital Globe – Source EUSI

Shortly after 11:20 a.m. on April 7, dozens of people had gathered to observe a fire that had started at the warehouse. A local resident said that the front section of the warehouse was used as a carpentry workshop, but that “no one knew anything about” a large section at the back.

Witnesses described seeing smoke and hearing several small explosions. At about 11:30 a.m., a huge, destructive blast occurred, followed by smaller explosions. A man who saw it said: “The first explosion happened, then there were a few small explosions and I saw smoke. Then [a few minutes later] the second explosion happened. It was so huge, I felt as if I was paralyzed.”

Witnesses told Mwatana researchers that the blast killed at least one child who had been standing near the warehouse and destroyed the nearby homes of an extended family. The Associated Press reported that the force of the blast knocked one man to the ground, unconscious. When the man regained consciousness, he said he saw a woman who had been “cut into pieces” by glass shards. The force of the blast blew a girl from the arms of her father into the air. The father later found the girl under plastic bags and rubble, alive.

The blast ripped a school door off its frame, killing a 17-year-old student at al-Ahqaf private school, 45 meters east of the warehouse. Flying debris wounded more than 20 other schoolchildren as well as teachers, school staff said. Another staff member said that “the windows shattered and some doors collapsed,” and her students “were very scared, holding me and crying.” The explosion severely damaged the computer room, she said. School staff said they had to break a small window in the guard’s house to evacuate the students, because the main gate was next to the warehouse.

Human Rights Watch and Mwatana matched four videos, based on identified landmarks and with satellite imagery, which show a fire with billowing grey smoke at the warehouse. The videos did not record what caused the fire. The videos show the fire apparently reaching a fuel source and rapidly transitioning into a large detonation with a high-velocity blast wave. About 10 people in the vicinity of the large explosion most likely became casualties.

Soon after the explosion, scores of armed Houthis, most in civilian clothes and two in police uniforms, arrived, created a perimeter around the warehouse, and blocked all entry, witnesses said. Some fired weapons in the direction of, and badly beat, people who tried to take pictures. They detained several people who were near the site, releasing them later that day, witnesses said.

On April 8, the day after the explosion, a researcher observed two Houthi military vehicles with more than 10 uniformed policemen who prevented all access to the site. The Houthis prevented local human rights researchers from visiting the area until April 11.

Residents said that in the days following the explosion, the Houthis appeared to be removing material from the warehouse. Medium-sized flatbed trucks “kept going in and out after the explosion to take things out of the warehouse, but we couldn’t see what was in them,” said a resident. “These [trucks] were the only things allowed in and out.”

Reports by coalition-aligned and Yemeni government news agencies also said the coalition carried out airstrikes on April 7 on a Houthi military camp in Jarban in Sanhan district outside the city, more than 20 kilometers south of where the warehouse explosion took place.

During the current conflict, one in five schools in Yemen has been closed, damaged by attacks, or used for military purposes, according to UNICEF.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A man walks past the remains of a tank destroyed during fighting between government and rebel forces in the Jebel area of the capital Juba, South Sudan, July 16, 2016. 

© 2016 AP Photo/Samir Bol, File
The latest report of the United Nations Panel of Experts on South Sudan has found, not surprisingly, that South Sudan and other states have been flouting the UN arms embargo imposed on the country last year. The embargo was the result of years of lobbying by domestic and international groups in an effort to stem the flow of weapons that are being used against civilians.

The arms embargo prohibits the supply, sale or transfer of arms and related material, and withholds training, technical, and financial assistance related to military activities or materials, bar a few clear exceptions. The panel found neighboring states likely violated the terms of the embargo, including by not providing inspection reports as required, making it impossible for the panel to ascertain whether any new weapons were imported. 

Since the outbreak of conflict in South Sudan in December 2013, government forces and rebel groups have committed widespread atrocity crimes including unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, recruitment and use of children in their armed forces, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.

Soldiers committed most of these crimes with small arms and light weapons, causing debilitating physical injuries and psychological harm. At least four million South Sudanese were forced to flee their homes and continue either to live in refugee camps in neighboring countries or in settlements for internally displaced people.

And despite a peace deal signed in 2018, conflict has continued. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed attacks. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch documented abuses against civilians during government counter-insurgency campaigns in Yei River State, including killings, forced displacement, and looting and destruction of property.

The UN arms embargo was a long-overdue step that could help to protect civilians from unlawful violence, but without effective implementation - especially from neighboring states - it won’t work. Take neighbor Uganda, which in 2014 and 2015 purchased weapons from Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, and then sent them to South Sudan's military and allies in Sudan in violation of an European Union arms embargo in place since 2011.

As the UN considers the panel’s report, it should act to renew both the sanctions and the arms embargo, and insist that this time round, neighboring states actually cooperate.

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

The New Zealand Parliament buildings in Wellington. 

© 2015 Michal Klajban

New Zealand has banned semi-automatic firearms, magazines, and parts that can be used to assemble prohibited firearms after 50 people were killed and dozens wounded in a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15.

The legislation has been praised around the world for coming so swiftly after these senseless and hateful attacks. Yet the reality is that it came far too late for many.

This is because successive governments failed to carry out legislative changes recommended in 1997 by an official review of firearms control in New Zealand. One lawyer who co-wrote that report has expressed regret that lives would have been saved in the Christchurch terror attack if semi-automatic weapons had been prohibited two decades ago, as the inquiry recommended.

As a Kiwi, I was shocked to learn about the Christchurch attacks. The news came in as I was in Berlin attending an arms control conference convened by Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas. He opened it by stating that “we cannot hold a conference on new weapons systems … without also calling to mind what happened in New Zealand … and what weapons are capable of doing.”

The conference considered various emerging technologies that raise serious concerns, particularly fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems, or killer robots. These are completely different weapons, but the same concerns apply around government inaction on calls to regulate.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the prospect of machines with the discretion and power to take human life is “morally repugnant and politically unacceptable.” His 2018 Agenda for Disarmament details the many serious ethical, legal, moral, operational, proliferation, technical, international security, and accountability concerns raised by fully autonomous weapons. The secretary-general recommends that countries create a treaty to prohibit such weapons systems and thereby ensure that “humans remain at all times in control over the use of force.”

Support for a ban on fully autonomous weapons is growing, with 28 countries already declaring their support.  But New Zealand is not among them. New Zealand has promised since 2013 to provide a coherent policy position on fully autonomous weapons, but still hasn’t done so.

New Zealand has not commented on the formal proposal made last year by Austria, Brazil, and Chile to begin the urgent negotiation of “a legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems. In fact, at last month’s diplomatic meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems at the UN in Geneva, New Zealand stated that such weapons could be developed and used as long as they pass a legal review and are used lawfully.

This narrow view ignores the serious concerns raised by fully autonomous weapons and is out of step with a majority of countries, which have said that existing international humanitarian law will not be sufficient to prevent the development of killer robots.

Once fully autonomous weapons are developed, they will proliferate and if the experience with other weapons is any guide they will be used by states and non-state armed groups with no regard for the laws of war. Restraining such use will become extraordinarily difficult at that point.

New Zealand’s current stance on killer robots stands in stark contrast to its bold political leadership to tackle the harm caused by landmines and cluster bombs. It does not complement the active and central role that our country plays in contributing to multilateral disarmament diplomacy, demonstrated most recently in New Zealand’s central contribution to creating the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The fundamental challenges raised by fully autonomous weapons present an opportunity for New Zealand to demonstrate bold political leadership and make full use of the unique portfolio provided by the minister for disarmament and arms control. But the starting point needs to be much more ambitious than the meek suggestions that officials have offered so far.

New Zealand should heed the call of its non-governmental organizations, technology companies, scientists and academics, and artificial intelligence experts, who have repeatedly encouraged the government to take a firm position to prohibit fully autonomous weapons.

And it should take a lesson from those previous governments that failed to act on the 1997 recommendations for firearms control. Joining the call for international action to ban fully autonomous weapons will help save lives—and maybe humanity as well.

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

A deminer works with children following him in Zuheiri, a town on the western coast.

© 2018 Private

(Beirut) – Houthi forces’ widespread use of landmines along Yemen’s western coast since mid-2017 has killed and injured hundreds of civilians and prevented aid groups from reaching vulnerable communities, Human Rights Watch said today. Yemeni law and the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty ban all use of antipersonnel mines; anti-vehicle mines have been used indiscriminately in violation of the laws of war, posing dangers to civilians long after hostilities have ceased.

Reported deaths and injuries by landmines in Yemen since January 2018. Source: Civilian Impact Monitoring Project, 2019.

Landmines laid in farmlands, villages, wells, and roads have killed at least 140 civilians, including 19 children, in the Hodeida and Taizz governorates since 2018, according to the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project, a humanitarian data source. Landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have prevented humanitarian organizations from reaching populations in need, left farms and wells inaccessible, and harmed civilians trying to return home.

“Houthi-laid landmines have not only killed and maimed numerous civilians, but they have prevented vulnerable Yemenis from harvesting crops and drawing clean water desperately needed for survival,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “Mines have also prevented aid groups from bringing food and health care to increasingly hungry and ill Yemeni civilians.”

Human Rights Watch researchers visited the southern port city of Aden in February 2019 and interviewed civilians injured by landmines as well as civilians fleeing mined areas, aid workers, and a deminer from Yemen Executive Mine Action Centre; analyzed video and photographs collected in country; and reviewed Houthi state and military media channels.

Human Rights Watch found evidence that in addition to laying anti-personnel landmines, Houthi forces planted anti-vehicle mines in civilian areas, modified anti-vehicle mines to detonate from a person’s weight, and disguised improvised explosive devices as rocks or parts of tree trunks. Human Rights Watch also found that the Houthis have used antipersonnel mines in Hayran, near the Saudi Arabia border, and confirmed their use of naval mines despite the risk to commercial, fishing, and aid vessels.

Victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the areas where landmines caused deaths and injuries were previously controlled by Houthi forces and that civilians had not been harmed until the Houthi withdrawal, when the mines presumably were planted. A 25-year-old man displaced from Nakhil village in Tuhayta district said that Houthis laid mines in his village around May 2018: “[The Houthis] warned me and said, ‘Don’t enter this area, we’re mining it.’ They told me that the area was mined.”

Landmines have also left at least three western coast water facilities inaccessible, two aid groups said. In addition, mines have made it more difficult for villagers to feed themselves and maintain their income. Five people said that they had been injured or that relatives had been killed when landmines detonated in farmlands or grazing lands; many displaced people said mines prevented safe harvesting and killed valuable livestock.

Landmines have prevented humanitarian organizations from reaching communities in need along the western coast, Human Rights Watch said. These included villages and towns in the Tuhayta and Mawza’a districts, as well as the major port city of Hodeida. Three aid groups said they could not reach key places or provide services to areas because landmines were planted there or along the route. Many of these communities are only accessible by dirt roads, which are far more hazardous than paved surfaces.

The Houthis’ use of landmines, which deprives people of water and food sources, contributes to the humanitarian crisis that afflicts the entire war-torn country, Human Rights Watch said. On April 9, 2019, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, Lise Grande, described Yemen as “the worst food security crisis in the world and one of the worst cholera outbreaks in modern history.” All of the districts noted here are either at crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity, while cholera cases are on the rise in Hodeida and Taizz governorates.

Map showing landmine contamination danger area identified by UNDP. The map is indicative only, as hazardous areas are not precisely known and these maps need to be updated regularly.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Authorities in Sanaa, the Houthi-controlled capital, informed Human Rights Watch in April 2017 that they consider the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which Yemen ratified in 1998, to be binding. In addition to the prohibition on use in the Mine Ban Treaty, individuals responsible for using prohibited weapons or carrying out indiscriminate attacks may be prosecuted for war crimes.

The Houthi authorities should immediately cease using these weapons and credibly investigate and appropriately punish commanders responsible for their use, Human Rights Watch said. Both the UN Group of Eminent Experts and the Security Council Panel of Experts should investigate Houthi landmine use and identify individuals responsible for widespread use where possible. The Panel of Experts should investigate individuals who may be responsible for war crimes, including impeding aid indispensable for the survival of civilians.

The Security Council should impose targeted sanctions on all individuals responsible for such violations. While the Council has imposed sanctions against Houthi leaders, it has taken no steps against members of the Saudi-led coalition, which has been responsible for numerous unlawful attacks since the conflict began.

While Houthi forces bear primary responsibility for civilian casualties and foreseeable civilian harm from landmines, inadequate training for deminers and poor coordination among demining groups has contributed to the problems in heavily mined areas. Various demining groups have failed to adequately share information about the types of devices discovered and their locations.

Map showing landmine contamination danger area identified by UNDP. The map is indicative only, as hazardous areas are not precisely known and these maps need to be updated regularly. The areas marked clear are not guaranteed to be free from explosive remnants of war.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch reviewed videos of at least three mine detection and clearance operations on Yemen’s western coast that clearly did not comply with International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) and safe demining practices. Deminers are seen removing live mines while children and other apparent civilians stand nearby. Houthi official news media have treated the deaths of the pro-Hadi government deminers as victories even though even though antipersonnel mines are unlawful and anti-vehicle mines have been used indiscriminately.

All humanitarian demining organizations should share information through a coordinated response guided by the International Mine Action Standards. Shared information should include mine locations, usage, and device types to allow for better training and safer demining practices. All parties to the conflict, including the Houthis, the Yemeni government, and the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition, should facilitate demining, including by providing visas to experts and approving technical and protective equipment for deminers, Human Rights Watch said.

Yemen’s government and coalition allies should urgently improve demining efforts and increase assistance to victims of landmines, which concerned governments should support, Human Rights Watch said.

“Houthi leaders should immediately end their use of landmines, for which they may one day be held to account,” Motaparthy said. “Governments concerned about the devastating impact of landmines in Yemen should support demining efforts, including through better training and coordination, as well as victim assistance.”

Landmine Use in Yemen

Houthi and allied forces have used landmines in at least six governorates in Yemen since the Saudi Arabia and Emirati-led coalition began military operations against them in March 2015. The Durayhimi and Tuhayta districts in Hodeida governorate had by far the highest number of reported deaths from landmines in 2018, according to the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project. The data underrepresents the number of incidents, as many go unreported or are not reported as mine incidents.

The Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC), which coordinates activity related to mines, reported that the Yemeni army cleared 300,000 mines around the country between 2016 and 2018. Human Rights Watch previously documented Houthi use of antipersonnel and anti-vehicle landmines between 2015 and 2018 in the Abyan, Aden, Lahj, Marib, and Taizz governorates.

In February in Aden, Human Rights Watch interviewed eight people injured by landmines; 63 people who had fled Hodeida and Taizz governorates including the city of Hodeida; local and international humanitarian workers; and members of the Yemeni National Commission for Human Rights who have documented landmine use. Researchers received photographs of mines and IEDs from a local journalist who traveled on the western coast, an international journalist who traveled with Yemeni government forces along the Saudi border, and Col. Abdullah Ali Sarhan, a YEMAC expert who supervised demining on the western coast from 2016 until his death on duty in 2018. And Human Rights Watch wrote to Houthi authorities in Sanaa, seeking their response on their forces’ use of landmines, but did not receive a reply before publication.

Houthi Use of Mines

Residents of the port of Hodeida and villages in the Hodeida governorate said that when their neighborhoods were under Houthi control, Houthis warned them of mines or that roads previously safe to pass became unsafe due to mines. “Mohammed,” 40, from the Abu Hilfa neighborhood near Hodeida’s port, said that he and his family fled in mid-2018 when the area became an active conflict zone:

They [the Houthis] dug trenches along 90th Street, laid booby traps, and put containers in the holes. … [T]here [was] a small path, a very small path in the middle you can use to exit and enter that is not mined.

“Omar,” from the Rabasa neighborhood near the Hodeida airport, said that Houthi fighters forcibly recruited him. He knew of mines laid near 90th Street, he said, and saw mines matching the description of anti-vehicle mines laid in the vicinity of the seaport and airport: “I saw mines of different types. [One] looked like a plate, it was olive green, near the airport. Near the port, I saw the green plate one as well.”

Houthi military media outlets confirmed their forces’ use of landmines and naval mines. The official Ansarallah website and Houthi media channels on YouTube and other social media boasted of military landmine use in areas where Human Rights Watch documented civilian casualties, as well as naval mine use.

On January 18, 2018, a Houthi military media channel stated that a landmine killed or injured members of the “hypocrites’ foot patrol” in al-Zahir village, al-Bayda governorate, suggesting Houthi forces’ use of banned antipersonnel mines. In addition, on January 23, 2018, a Houthi media channel announced that landmines had killed and injured “enemy mercenaries” trying to sneak into an electricity station in Taizz city. A June 19 Houthi statement announced that seven people had died when a pro-government military truck detonated a landmine in al-Durayhimi, Hodeida governorate. On December 5, an official media channel announced that a pro-government military demining unit’s armored vehicle detonated a landmine in al-Faza village in Tuhayta district.

Attacks using banned weapons on military targets or in an unlawfully indiscriminate manner are laws-of-war violations. Mines remained in these areas after civilians returned, causing deaths and injuries, according to CIMP data.

On October 11, the Yemen Wrath media channel promoted photographs and video of Houthi naval divers standing next to and subsequently deploying “Mersad” naval mines. Writing prominently displayed on the mines stated that they were made in Yemen. Human Rights Watch also received photographs of Yemini made naval mines retrieved by demining teams from a local journalist.

A water tanker that reportedly struck a landmine in the western coast town of Zuhairi.

© 2018 Private

Mines Blocking Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian workers from three aid groups said that landmines and unexploded ordnance had prevented their organizations from reaching communities in need. One aid worker said that “mines are definitely affecting humanitarian access. Some locals say [an area] is safe because ‘we can travel to you.’ But we can’t go to them because of potential mine contamination… [There are] a lot of places we didn’t go because of mines.”

Aid workers specified that the presence of landmines prevented them from taking unpaved roads to reach communities in need in several western coast areas, including Mawza’a, Wazi’iyah, Mokha, and Tuhayta. A representative of a humanitarian group working in the south said, “[W]hen we were trying to reach Tuhayta, one of the reasons we stopped from proceeding…was the presence along the road of mines. I really don’t know the scale of the unexploded ordnance because we don’t have reliable data.”

Road travel in mined districts can be dangerous. Of the 39 reported landmine incidents killing 146 civilians in Hodeida in 2018, over half occurred along roads, CIMP reported. An aid worker was killed in Mawza’a by a mine explosion when traveling off of a main road. Human Rights Watch documented three cases in Hodeida and Taizz governorates of civilian injuries on dirt roads.

Unsafe Access to Farm and Grazing Lands, Water Facilities

Landmines laid on farms and grazing lands killed or seriously injured civilians and prevented others from obtaining food or earning money. Human Rights Watch documented five incidents in farmlands that killed three civilians and injured six. “Mansour,” a farm worker in al-Qataba, in Khawkha district, Hodeida governorate, suffered serious injuries and burns when his plow struck a mine on a vegetable farm in early 2019.

“Hassan,” a shepherd in al-Omari village near Mokha, said that his 15-year-old son suffered burns and serious injuries in a landmine explosion in December 2018 while the two of them were tending their livestock. He said that he was aware of the dangers: “I had many animals, including three camels, and all of them died by mine incidents at different times over last two years in the area.”

He said that the day his son was injured:

We left the house to go to the well and get water. Then we were shepherding the goats and sheep around, and about half a kilometer away [from me] there was an explosion. I heard the explosion and I ran to [my son]. All of us were scared, but I saw him lying there and I took off my head scarf and started wrapping it around his body and his wounds.

Humanitarian groups said they found evidence that the Houthis had laid landmines in wells and other water facilities in several western coast locations, including al-Zuhairi, Mokha district, al-Hayma, Khawkha district, as well as at the main water station in Tuhayta district.

A resident of Zuhairi attempted to repair the town well, stepped on a mine, and was injured. A repair truck visiting the same location also triggered a mine explosion, a humanitarian group said. And a landmine destroyed a water transport truck. “Organizations that…improve [or] repair these water points [and] wells take risks when accessing the sites,” an aid worker said. “It is a major obstacle.”

In late January in Hodeida city, “Fatima,” a 12-year-old girl, was riding a donkey to collect water. Her grandmother said that as she returned home with her water cans, the donkey stepped on a mine. The resulting blast caused Fatima to lose her foot.

Mines Preventing Safe Return Home

Mines are preventing families displaced by earlier fighting from returning home. Human Rights Watch interviewed 63 people who fled areas of active hostilities including Hodeida city during the height of military operations in 2018, as well as pockets of fighting in Tuhayta, Beit al-Faqih, and ad-Durayhimi in Hodeida governorate. The representative for a displaced persons camp that sheltered approximately 750 families in Aden said that in many of these families’ home towns or villages, “the situation is calm but there are so many landmines. So [they] can’t go back to their homes. [Mines are] in the farms, in the roads, hidden in different shapes like stones, or trees. There were cases of people wounded…by mines, some in their eyes, their bodies, their legs.”

“Fouad,” 15, lost his leg below the knee when trying to return to his home village of Beni Gamal, Tuhayta district, which he had fled a month earlier due to clashes in the area. His 13-year-old brother died in the same incident. The boys were traveling with 13 relatives – 9 women and 4 other children – in a microbus on a dirt road between al-Nakhil and Tuhayta when a mine exploded at the front of the vehicle, overturning it. The driver and Fouad’s brother died, while Fouad, who was sitting next to them, was severely injured.

Fouad’s 25-year-old brother said that al-Filah, the area where the mine exploded, was the main route to Tuhayta district, and lay between Houthi and government forces. The Houthis had withdrawn from the Tuhayta district to surrounding farmlands, while government forces encircled the district. After government forces took control of the area, he said, a military demining team removed devices from the main populated areas, but not from the outskirts or farmlands. He said that mines were not marked and no signs were posted warning of their presence.

“Abdullah,” a 12-year-old boy from al-Zuhairi, a small village in Mokha district, said that he was injured when a landmine exploded near his home. He had returned to al-Zuhairi with his grandparents from Hodeida three months earlier after government forces gained control of the area from the Houthis. One day he was walking home from fishing with his uncle and 13-year-old cousin when his uncle stepped on a mine in the neighbor’s yard, about 10 meters from his home:

There was a big explosion.… I was thrown into the air and into a tree. I lost consciousness and I was stuck in the tree for about an hour. [My cousin] was taken right away by ambulance around 1 p.m., but [for] me it was around 3 p.m. because they didn’t see me in the tree. I woke and I started crying and someone heard me and he got me out of the tree, and they took me to the clinic.

His uncle died and his cousin suffered injuries. Abdullah lost the vision in his left eye, and suffered burns all over his left arm and the left side of his face.

A deminer lacking protective equipment works to defuse a mine, with children and what appear to be other civilians watching.

© 2018 Private

Dangerous and Uncoordinated Demining

Mine clearance in Yemen is being carried out by various teams, including multiple military engineering teams loyal to the Yemeni government and backed by the United Arab Emirates along the western coast, civilian deminers working for the Yemeni government, humanitarian groups, and private companies. Based on interviews and review of video material, Human Rights Watch found that in several cases, mine clearance has been haphazard, using unsafe methods. Deminers have allowed civilians including crowds of children to stand within a few meters of clearance operations; have moved and carried devices without removing fuzes; and have carried out their work without protective equipment, including blast visors or ballistic vests.

Demining personnel have been injured or killed during clearance operations. In February, a deminer from a local military demining team said, he was injured while clearing an anti-vehicle mine modified to become an antipersonnel device near the Hodeida airport:

I found and discovered the booby trap. It was anti-tank but turned into anti-personnel. [It was] a trick. I discovered it and was removing the dust. My friend was with me, he was defusing it. I was behind him. [When it exploded,] I was thrown 20 meters. It was a landmine, locally made, changed into a booby trap. It was on farmland beside the airport.

In January, five foreign demining staff with the MASAM project, a Saudi-funded humanitarian demining initiative, were killed and another wounded while transporting mines and unexploded ordnance in Marib governorate.

All demining units should improve training and enforce landmine safety protocols, Human Rights Watch said. Humanitarian and military deminers in this area should share information regarding types of devices found, locations, and patterns of use. Training should accurately reflect and address the dangers teams will face. All teams should have access to the most up-to-date information and to adequate equipment.

Human Rights Watch found evidence of a variety of landmines. These include Pakistani-manufactured P2 Mk 2 anti-vehicle mines with low metal content, making them difficult to detect using the standard metal detectors frequently used in Yemen. There are also Italian-manufactured VS-1.6 anti-vehicle mines not registered in Yemen’s known stocks or noted in previous YEMAC training. In addition, Human Rights Watch and local media collected evidence of mines disguised as rocks and tree trunks, and other IEDs that require special training to safely clear.

Civilians injured in landmine incidents or those fleeing mined areas, said that demining teams visited their villages or neighborhoods but that mined areas were not consistently marked, and that people often mistakenly understood their areas to be safe. “Bushra,” whose granddaughter was seriously injured in a landmine explosion near Kilo 16 in Hodeida city, said:

The government looked for and found mines in our area when they arrived. They said they were mines, [but] before the [accident] they came and said, “This area is clear of mines.” When we would go out of the house, we would sometimes see the mines they were collecting. You can see there are small and big [mines] that they have taken from the ground…. Another family from the area told us that the same day as the [accident], [the demining unit] found three landmines in that area when they arrived.

Abdullah, the 12-year-old injured by a mine in al-Zuhairi, near Mokha, said that a military demining team affiliated with pro-government Emirati-backed militias operating along the western coast visited al-Zuhairi around October or November 2018. The team only cleared the area around the home of a local military officer, he said. “They found maybe 30 mines in one day but didn’t clear the whole area,” he said. “There are [still] a lot of mines and people are dead, and animals… [there are] a lot of incidents.”

Hussein, whose 15-year-old son was injured while grazing livestock near Mokha, said:

[Four months] before [my son’s] accident, two guys came to the area and took a lot of mines, 300 in a day. Then they said it was done and there were no more… I thought ‘It’s finished, al-hamdulillah [praise be to God].’ … Then two committees came to look and check the area. They [put up] signs that you can go here and not go here. But the animals don’t know how to follow the signs.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Remnant of a UK-produced missile found at the location of an air strike at Radfan Ceramics Factory, west of Sanaa, Yemen, on September 23, 2015.

© 2015 Ali Muhammad al-Sawari
 (London) – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and RW UK intervened in a court case beginning today that is challenging the United Kingdom’s continued sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. The case is being heard by the Court of Appeal for three days starting on April 9, 2019.

The landmark case, brought by the UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), seeks to establish that the UK government is breaking its own arms export licensing criteria by continuing to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, given the clear risk that the weapons would be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. The High Court in London dismissed the case in 2017, but the Campaign Against Arms Trade won the right to appeal, and the three groups, along with Oxfam, again received permission to intervene.

“The UK government says it has very rigorous arms controls, yet weapons continue to be sold to Saudi Arabia despite considerable evidence of Saudi-led coalition abuses in Yemen,” said Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “This case is a key opportunity to make sure that the UK rules on arms sales are being properly applied to Saudi Arabia.”

The three organizations are intervening to address the meaning of the term “clear risk” of a serious violation of international humanitarian law, which governs when arms sales should not take place. They also intend to set out the importance for the UK government and other decision-makers to take into consideration research and reports on the abuses in the war in Yemen by the United Nations and by nongovernmental groups.

Since the coalition began its aerial campaign in Yemen in March 2015, the UK has licensed at least £4.7 billion (US$6.1 billion) worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch researchers have regularly visited Yemen and documented the use of weapons, including weapons made in the UK, in strikes that appeared to be unlawful. The UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Yemeni rights groups have repeatedly documented unlawful attacks by the coalition that have hit homes, markets, schools, and hospitals, and killed and wounded many civilians.

Since 2016, Human Rights Watch has called for all countries to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the Saudi-led coalition ends its unlawful attacks and credibly investigates those that have already occurred. A growing number of European countries have halted sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria.

The organizations are represented by Deighton Pierce Glynn, Jemima Stratford QC, Nikolaus Grubeck and Anthony Jones.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch delivered five statements at the Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems in March 2019. 

Statement on International Humanitarian Law, 26 March 2019

Delivered by Bonnie Docherty, Senior Researcher

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Fully autonomous weapons raise a host of moral, legal, security, and technological concerns, but I will focus my remarks today on those related to international humanitarian law (IHL).

As indicated by its title and preamble, the CCW aims to promote compliance with IHL and in particular provisions related to the protection of civilians. To live up to its stated goal, CCW must address the possibility of a next generation of weapons technology that would apply force without meaningful human control and thus directly challenge IHL in several ways.

First, fully autonomous weapons would face significant obstacles to complying with the principles of distinction and proportionality. For example, these systems would lack the human judgment necessary to determine whether expected civilian harm outweighs anticipated military advantage in ever-changing and unforeseen combat situations.

Second, the use of fully autonomous weapons would lead to a gap in individual criminal responsibility for war crimes. Commanders are responsible for the actions of a subordinate if they knew or should have known the actions would be unlawful and did not prevent or punish them. It would be legally challenging, and unfair, to hold commanders liable for the unforeseeable actions of a machine operating outside their control.

Third, fully autonomous weapons raise serious concerns under the Martens Clause, a provision of IHL that sets a moral baseline for judging emerging technologies. Fully autonomous weapons would undermine the principles of humanity because they would be unable to apply compassion or human judgment to decisions to use force. Widespread opposition from experts and the general public shows that the weapons would also run counter to the dictates of public conscience.

The challenges posed to IHL have been widely discussed during CCW meetings over the past five years. Now it is time for states to act on these concerns—whether in the CCW or another forum.  Like many states in this room, we believe that the solution is a new legally binding instrument that ensures meaningful human control is maintained over the use of force.

We have repeatedly heard the refrain “existing IHL is adequate” in debates about other weapons systems. But we have also seen that the international community often recognizes the necessity of new law to complement and strengthen IHL. The CCW and other disarmament treaties demonstrate that adopting such law is feasible and effective. 

While existing IHL establishes fundamental rules regarding civilian protection, accountability, and ethical considerations, it was not designed for situations in which life-and-death decisions are delegated to machines. 

The fact that states have been debating the challenges this revolutionary technology poses under IHL for so long underscores the need for more clarity in the law.  A new protocol or stand-alone treaty would provide such legal clarity. It would set a high standard that would bind states parties. By stigmatizing the weapons systems, it could also influence the actions of states not party and even non-state actors.

Such a treaty should ensure that meaningful human control over the use of force is maintained. It should prohibit the development, production, and use of weapons systems that select and engage targets objects without meaningful human control.

By enshrining the need for meaningful human control, the instrument would address the range of problems raised by fully autonomous weapons. For example, with regard to IHL, meaningful human control would ensure humans can apply judgment to the selection and engagement of targets, be held accountable for their actions, and uphold the principles of humanity and dictates of public conscience.

The exact term and its definition can be worked out during negotiations, but meaningful human control could encompass different elements, including but not limited to: (1) necessary time for human deliberation and action; (2) sufficient access to information about the context in which force might be used and the machine’s process for selecting and engaging target objects; and (3) predictable, reliable, and transparent technology.

The discussions this week—and at previous CCW meetings—show that states have largely agreed on the necessity for human control. This convergence provides the common ground needed to take the next step. High Contracting Parties to the CCW should approve a negotiating mandate at the November 2019 meeting and adopt a new protocol by the end of 2020.  

Thank you.

 

Statement on Options for Future Work, 27 March 2019

Delivered by Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

For the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, our preferred option for addressing the humanitarian and international security challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons—or “LAWS”—is for states to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit weapons systems that can select and engage targets without meaningful human control. The treaty should enshrine the principle that states should maintain meaningful human control over the use of force.

There are multiple advantages and benefits to creating such a ban treaty or protocol. A treaty would help satisfy mounting ethical, legal, humanitarian, operational, technical and other concerns raised by fully autonomous weapons. Here are nine reasons why a treaty is necessary:

1. To enhance and strengthen existing international humanitarian and human rights law. A new treaty would build on those areas of law and eliminate any doubts that fully autonomous weapons are incapable of abiding by the fundamental principles of international humanitarian and human rights law. These weapons fundamentally differ from other weapons and raise unique challenges. A treaty can unambiguously address the application of existing law to these weapons.

2. To clarify states’ obligations and make explicit the requirements for compliance. A new treaty would standardize rules across countries. Even states that do not immediately join the treaty would be inclined to abide by its prohibition due to the stigma associated with removing meaningful human control from weapons systems and the use of force. A binding, absolute ban on fully autonomous weapons would also be easier to enforce than a complex series of rules and regulations because it would be simpler and clearer and reduce the need for case-by-case determinations.

3. To make the illegality of fully autonomous weapons clear, especially in countries that do not conduct Article 36 legal reviews of new or modified weapons. A new treaty would also help to resolve the shortcomings of Article 36 reviews, which are only conducted by approximately 30 states, as reviewers follow varying standards, reviews can be narrow in their scope, and reviews are never publicly released.

4. To facilitate agreement on the legal definition of fully autonomous weapons and, in so doing, establish what is unacceptable about autonomy in weapons systems.

5. To help stop development before it goes too far and thereby avert an arms race and prevent proliferation, including by states with little regard for international humanitarian law or by non-state armed groups. The new treaty should prohibit not only use, but also development and production of fully autonomous weapons.  

6. To close the accountability gap raised by fully autonomous weapons. There are currently insurmountable legal and practical obstacles that would, in most cases, prevent holding anyone responsible for unlawful harms caused by fully autonomous weapons. A treaty prohibiting killer robots could lead to national implementation laws criminalizing violations of the treaty, thereby facilitating enforcement.

7. To address the far-reaching moral and ethical objections raised over fully autonomous weapons, most notably their lack of judgment and empathy, threat to human dignity, and absence of moral agency.

8. To satisfy rising calls for regulation from states, industry, and civil society. This would help meet public expectations that governments will act preventively and address emerging technologies that raise a host of concerns.

9. To ensure continued research and development of beneficial civilian applications of new and emerging technologies including robotics and artificial intelligence, by providing clarity to tech companies and the financial institutions and investment communities that support them, and by ensuring their work is not tainted by the stigmatizing impact of autonomous weapons.

If states are serious about the Convention on Conventional Weapons being the appropriate forum to tackle concerns raised by fully autonomous weapons, then they should commit to move to a negotiating mandate at the Meeting of High Contracting Parties in November. The CCW is a flexible framework convention that was intended to prohibit or restrict the use of certain weapons which may be deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects. A new protocol could confirm the areas of convergence captured by the “possible guiding principles” contained in the final report of the last annual meeting, which affirmed that “human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapon systems must be retained.”

There is, of course, precedent for a ban treaty, including ones negotiated outside of United Nations auspices. In the past, responsible states found it necessary to supplement existing legal frameworks for weapons that by their nature posed significant humanitarian threats, such as biological weapons, chemical weapons, antipersonnel mines, and cluster munitions. There is also precedent for such a preemptive ban in CCW Protocol IV prohibiting laser weapons designed to permanently blind human soldiers.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots cannot support alternative approaches that fall short of new international law, such as political declarations, guidelines, codes of conduct, compendiums of military “best practices,” and questionnaires. We highly doubt that such measures will satisfy public concerns.

This Group of Governmental Experts should agree to recommend that the CCW move to a negotiating mandate and not simply roll the current one over and consider options again. There is not time or money to waste on inconclusive talks that lead nowhere. If the CCW cannot deliver a negotiating mandate in 2019—after six years of work—it is time to look elsewhere.

 

Statement on Options for Future Work, 27 March 2019

Delivered by Steve Goose, Director, Arms Division

Thank you for the floor Mr. Chairman.

Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

The only viable option is a legally-binding instrument, one that comprehensively prohibits the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons, or Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, and one that requires meaningful human control over critical combat functions.

The partial measures, or more accurately the baby steps, that have been proposed are not justified after six years of work. The lack of ambition and of urgency on the part of some states is shameful.

In fact, there is widespread support for a legally-binding instrument and for a ban on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems.  The vast majority of states in this room support moving to negotiation of a legally-binding instrument.  Only a very small number of states have expressed opposition to a legally-binding instrument.

Some of those states that have expressed opposition seem to be looking for a green light to develop and field fully autonomous weapons.  They not only reject the notion of a red light for their efforts, they also reject even a yellow caution light.

In the past, we heard loud and insistent proclamations that there was no need for new law, and certainly not for a ban, on antipersonnel mines and on cluster munitions. Yet, many of those proclaiming the loudest changed their views, participated in negotiations of a legally-binding instrument outside of the CCW, and joined the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

If there is anything that demands legally-binding measures, it is autonomous weapons.  This is because of their novel and unique character, and because of their far-reaching implications, including changing the very nature of warfare. Lesser measures simply will not suffice to address the many potential dangers of fully autonomous weapons.

A non-legally-binding political declaration has been touted by some as a useful interim measure, as a step toward a legal instrument.  This may have made sense four years ago, but not now.  Moreover, based on the way CCW usually operates, one can confidently predict that consideration of a political declaration would involve negotiation of every word, would take years to conclude, and would be the end point.  There would be no further action on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems in the CCW.

It appears that some states are thinking of substituting additional deliberations on the 10 Guiding Principles agreed to last year for the notion of a political declaration. But this would suffer the same downsides as a political declaration, most notably that it would not be legally-binding.  Some have advocated further discussion of the principles, others have said to build on them, and still others have said to “operationalize” them.  I would welcome clarity on what such operationalization would entail.

In any event, this would likely result in a continuation of the “talk shop” approach that has dominated the past five years. It is unlikely to produce a concrete outcome or to have any real impact.

We appreciate the efforts to enhance, strengthen, and universalize Article 36 on weapons reviews.  This is an admirable and worthwhile goal.  But, as many states have said, this is not enough in and of itself to address the issue. Others have pointed to the small number of states that carry out such reviews and to the complete lack of transparency by all states. Moreover, this is not the right place for a thorough and comprehensive examination of Article 36. The task of this GGE is to deal with Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, and not to have that effort turned into consideration of weapons reviews. That should be a separate undertaking.

Mr. Chairman, we urge CCW High Contracting Parties to adopt a negotiating mandate at the November annual meeting.  We would hope that would result in a new Protocol VI that prohibits fully autonomous weapons and requires meaningful human control over the use of force.

We have strongly supported the CCW’s work on this issue since 2013, and we have sincerely hoped for a successful outcome in this forum.  But if High Contracting Parties are unable to agree to a negotiation mandate in November, other paths must be explored, such as the UN General Assembly or an independent process like the Ottawa Process on landmines and the Oslo Process on cluster munitions.

Thank you.

 

Statement on Guiding Principles, 29 March 2019

Delivered by Bonnie Docherty, Senior Researcher

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We appreciate the discussions that you have led this week and the efforts to bring more substance to the debate and to identify points of convergence.

We believe, however, that the agenda for this afternoon raises a procedural concern. Discussing the guiding principles instead of the range of proposals for the way ahead has the potential to prejudice the debate. In our view, there is no consensus that the guiding principles are the best path forward.

With regard to substance, the principles are an inadequate response to the dangers presented by the prospect of weapons systems that could select and engage targets without meaningful human control. They are inadequate for many reasons, including the following:

• Principles on the applicability of international humanitarian law (IHL) (Principle 1) and weapons reviews (Principle 4) simply restate international law.

• Other principles restate uncontroversial points that this body has agreed on—for example, that policy measures should not interfere with peaceful uses of technology (Principle 8) and that the use of emerging technologies should comply with IHL (Principle 7).

• The lack of clarity and precision in the language will confuse the issue and muddy accepted understandings of international law. For example, responsibility is used sometime to refer to legal responsibility (Principle 3) and sometimes to what has widely been referred to in this room as human control (Principle 2)

• The principles implicitly acknowledge that there are risks to lethal autonomous weapons systems. For example, they reference “risk assessments” (Principle 6), the need to ensure legal responsibility (Principle 3), and certain security and technical concerns (Principle 5). But the list of concerns is neither complete nor clearly articulated.

• Most important, the principles mention “crafting potential policy measures” but they do not themselves represent policy measures that would address any of these concerns. There is nothing in the guiding principles that indicates that a potential goal is a legally binding instrument, despite the fact that the majority of states in the room have called for one.

• Principle 10 notes that “CCW is an appropriate framework for dealing with the issue.” If that is the case, we believe it should deal with the issue in the way CCW was designed to operate—that is, through a new protocol that addresses the humanitarian concerns presented by certain weapons systems.

Thank you.

 

Statement on The Way Forward, 29 March 2019

Delivered by Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

Mr. Chair, we appreciate the way in which you have chaired this meeting and acknowledge the way in which delegates have deepened their understandings of the concerns raised by lethal autonomous weapons systems. It shows how having draft text can focus deliberations, but it’s a shame the documents are merely summaries of the various sessions of the meeting.

However, yet again, we are dismayed that a small group of states have limited the ambition of the majority and concerned by the lack of urgency for achieving a meaningful result from these diplomatic talks on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

Many of the 90 states participating in this week’s United Nations meeting on these weapons expressed their firm desire to move to negotiate a new treaty to prohibit or restrict these weapons systems. Such a treaty is widely seen as necessary to enshrine the principle that states should maintain meaningful human control over the use of force.

As you know, calls to ban killer robots are multiplying rapidly and more than 4,500 artificial intelligence experts have called for a new treaty to prohibit lethal autonomous weapons systems in various open letters since 2015. That includes Yoshua Bengio, Yann le Cun, and Geoffrey Hinton, who were this week awarded the Turing Award, the most prestigious prize in the field of computer science. We welcome the fittingly recognition of their important contributions to this field and their active support for our common goal of a new treaty to ban killer robots.

It’s clear that a majority of states want to do the right thing, but the calls from some states for guiding principles, declarations, guidelines, codes of conduct, compendiums of military “best practices,” questionnaires, and more committees are not the answer. Such measures will not satisfy public concerns.

I will be frank. There is rising concern that these Convention on Conventional Weapons talks on lethal autonomous weapons systems are a way for militarily powers to try to placate civil society, distract public attention, and manage media expectations rather than seriously address the challenges such weapons pose for humanity.

We say this because it is the states opposing any move to create a new treaty who are investing significant funds and effort into developing weapons systems with decreasing human control over the critical functions of selecting and engaging targets.

I want to remind everyone how this meeting  opened at the beginning of this week with an appeal from the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to prohibit lethal autonomous weapons systems, which he called “morally repugnant and politically unacceptable.” As he stated: “the world is watching, the clock is ticking.”

So the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots will be back in August for the next CCW meeting, but our faith in this forum is rapidly dissipating. Therefore, we will be deepening and expanding our engagement in capitals around the world and also present at the United Nations General Assembly later this year.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Rechstag Building, home of the German Parliament, in Berlin. 

© 2007 Jorge Royan

(Berlin) – Germany should cooperate with like-minded countries to open negotiations on a new treaty to prohibit weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention, Human Rights Watch said today.

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, is convening a conference on the future of arms control in Berlin on March 15, 2019. The conference will consider emerging technological threats, such as fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems or killer robots. The prospect of such weapons raises a host of serious ethical, legal, technical, proliferation, and international security concerns.

“Germany should turn its statements on the need to prohibit killer robots into action by launching negotiations of a new ban treaty,” said Mary Wareham, the Arms Division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Public expectations are rising that political leaders will act decisively to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapons.”

Wareham will represent the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots at the March 15 conference.

In a new survey by the market research company Ipsos of 26 countries, 61 percent of respondents opposed the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems. In Germany, 72 percent of those polled opposed such weapons systems, while 14 percent supported them and 14 percent said they were not sure.

The Ipsos poll also asked those opposed to such weapons systems what concerned them the most. In Germany, more than three-quarters – 77 percent – answered that lethal autonomous weapons systems would “cross a moral line because machines should not be allowed to kill.” More than half – 60 percent – said the weapons would be “subject to technical failures.”

At the September 2018 opening of the UN General Assembly, Germany’s foreign minister called on states “to ban fully autonomous weapons – before it is too late!” Germany often highlights the need to maintain meaningful human control over the decision to kill another human.

Rather than promoting a ban treaty, however, Germany, along with France, has proposed a non-binding political declaration to affirm the importance of human control of weapons systems.

“Germany recognized the unacceptable harm caused by antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions when it negotiated and signed the treaties prohibiting these weapons,” Wareham said. “These treaties have been enormously effective without the signature of some major powers. A new treaty is urgently needed to stigmatize the removal of meaningful human control over  selecting and engaging targets.”

At the annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in November, Germany and more than 80 other countries agreed to continue diplomatic talks on killer robots in 2019. But the talks lack a clear commitment to or timetable for negotiating a treaty.

Russia, Israel, South Korea, and the United States indicated at the November meeting that they would not support negotiations for a new treaty. These nations and China are investing significantly in weapons with decreasing levels of human control in their critical functions, prompting fears of widespread proliferation and arms races. This shows that a new avenue is urgently needed to prohibit fully autonomous weapons before they become operational.

Past failures by the Convention on Conventional Weapons to stem human suffering caused by antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions resulted in external diplomatic processes that delivered life-saving treaties to ban the weapons. The lack of agreement among nuclear weapons states to disarm also led other countries to create the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons via the UN General Assembly.

In November, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called lethal autonomous weapons systems “politically unacceptable and morally repugnant” and urged states to prohibit them. Since 2013, 28 countries have called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. Austria, Brazil, and Chile formally proposed the urgent negotiation of “a legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems.

Countries and other responsible entities should endorse and work for a ban on fully autonomous weapons, Human Rights Watch said. In one example, in June, Google issued a set of ethical principles, including a commitment not to “design or deploy” artificial intelligence for use in weapons.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which Human Rights Watch is co-founder, is a rapidly growing coalition of 100 nongovernmental organizations in 54 countries working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons. It will hold a public event in Berlin on March 21 to present information about the issue, followed by a global meeting of its campaigners from March 22 to 23.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots will join more than 80 countries, as well as UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), for the seventh CCW meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems at the UN in Geneva on March 25 through 29.

“Political declarations, promises of transparency, and other measures that fall short of a new ban treaty will be insufficient to deal with the multiple challenges raised by killer robots,” Wareham said. “Governments such as Germany should be helping to negotiate the ban treaty now.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Satellite-analysis of US-led coalition air strike locations in Baghuz (19 January - 20 February 2019)

© Damage analysis by Human Rights Watch; Image courtesy of Planet Labs Inc.

(New York) – Protecting civilians should be a key priority for the US-led coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) makes its last territorial stand in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today, based on research in northern Syria and analysis of satellite imagery. Satellite-recorded video taken on the morning of February 20, 2019 shows hundreds of people walking along a small agricultural access road in the town of Baghuz near the Euphrates river.

The UN high commissioner for human rights had warned on February 19 that about 200 families remained trapped in the town and called for their safe passage out. On February 20, journalists saw some of these families evacuating the town. But the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces spokesperson said that some civilians remain in the pocket of land.

“Civilians leaving Baghuz is a relief but it should not obscure the fact that this battle appears to have been waged without sufficient consideration to their wellbeing,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism/counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “Just because they may be families of ISIS members or sympathized with them does not take away their protected status.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 20 people who escaped the ISIS pocket in recent weeks. They described the Baghuz area being repeatedly shelled and subjected to air strikes, resulting in the town’s destruction. An analysis of satellite imagery revealed that the majority of buildings in Baghuz were destroyed during a one-month period between January 19 and February 20, a period during which large numbers of civilians were still present. Human Rights Watch identified over 630 major damage sites in Baghuz during this period, consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions.

The number of civilians killed in the fighting remains unknown. Many of those who escaped said that they buried people wherever they could. Satellite imagery recorded between January 26 and February 9 appeared to show ongoing mass burials on an empty plot of land next to the main road in the center of Baghuz. Human Rights Watch is not in a position to determine how many of those buried were civilians.

Journalists stationed near the Baghuz front lines told Human Rights Watch that they have observed a decrease in the number of airstrikes since February 14, but that shelling has continued to strike the pocket.

In addition to hundreds of US-led coalition airstrikes on the area, escapees described artillery attacks coming from territory controlled by the Syrian government, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and even from the Iraqi border, where Iraqi, French, and American artillery were based. French artillery is positioned at a forward operating base on the plateau of the Baghuz mountain in Iraq's western Anbar province opposite Syria's Deir Ezzor region, 10.5 kilometers east of Baghuz. The head of that unit told AFP earlier in February that his forces had fired 3,500 rounds on the Syrian front, which includes Baghuz.

“The scariest part was the shelling,” said a 42-year-old Iraqi man who managed to escape. “It came from all sides, including the Iraqi side. The field was strewn with bodies of people and we’d all stay flat on the ground, for hours on end, not moving while the shells flew from one direction to the other.” Human Rights Watch identified in satellite imagery hundreds of impact craters from heavy artillery fire within Baghuz between January 19 and February 19 consistent with this and other witness accounts.

Witnesses described harrowing conditions in the last months, with lack of food and aid forcing them to eat grass and weeds to survive, even as they moved multiple times to escape relentless attacks. As US-backed troops advanced on the area, large numbers of civilians retreated with ISIS along the Euphrates river to Baghuz, where they were encircled completely with the Baghuz mountains to the east and the river to the south.

Video

Satellite: Movement of people, fleeing heavy air strikes and artillery fire in Baghuz, Syria

Time series animation of satellite imagery showing the movement of thousands of people towards the Euphrates River fleeing heavy air strikes and artillery fire in Baghuz (20 January - 19 February 2019). Image courtesy of Planet Labs Inc.

Satellite imagery recorded between January 26 and February 20 shows the movement of thousands of people toward the river as US-led coalition forces hit the built-up areas of Baghuz with air strikes and artillery fire. People who later escaped the area told Human Rights Watch that many of the people with them were relatives of ISIS members, but others were people who had been displaced multiple times in Iraq and Syria and had remained in ISIS controlled areas because they had no place else to go.

Most witnesses said that it was very dangerous to try to escape ISIS-controlled areas because the group punished people who tried to flee and had mined the roads. They said that smugglers were charging up to US$400 per person, which most of them no longer had.

Families slept in open fields for days, in temperatures that got very cold at night, and dug small trenches in the ground to protect themselves from the shelling and air strikes.

Witness accounts of air and artillery strikes together with image-based analysis of air strike damage in Baghuz, raise concerns that US-led coalition forces fighting ISIS failed to take adequate precautions to minimize civilian casualties.

The coalition should choose means and methods of warfare to minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects, including in their choice of weaponry in populated areas. The coalition should conduct thorough, prompt, and impartial investigations of the attacks resulting in civilian casualties, do everything feasible to prevent similar attacks, and provide compensation or condolence payments to people who suffered losses due to the coalition’s operations, Human Rights Watch said.

All parties to the conflict should facilitate access for aid groups to populations in need, and the international community should increase its efforts to assist those in need, Human Rights Watch said.

“In the air, we see the international coalition expend vast resources to defeat ISIS, but on the ground it has expended very little to protect children and other civilians caught up in its attacks,” Houry said.

Video

Satellite: Destruction of buildings from US-led coalition air strikes and artillery bombardment on the town of Baghuz

Time series animation of satellite imagery showing the destruction of hundreds of buildings from US-led coalition air strikes and artillery bombardment from multiple sides on the town of Baghuz (20 January to 19 February 2019). Image courtesy of Planet Labs Inc.

Perilous Escapes, Then More Hardship

As the strikes intensified in January, thousands of people decided to leave the Baghuz area and made the arduous and dangerous journey out of ISIS-held areas by walking to the top of the Baghuz mountain and into SDF-controlled territory. Those with money paid smugglers to help transport them part of the way. Between December 4 and February 19, more than 31,000 people left the area.

A Syrian woman described the decision to leave:

There were strikes from all directions. It just became too dangerous. At one point, we gathered each other, we were in the hundreds, and we left Baghuz. We walked from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m. We were in a group of 12 families. We slept outside. I tore my dress to cover my child’s head.

Air strikes and artillery shells fell as people escaped, other witnesses said.

“The planes were hitting people even as they escaped – we saw them one night, up on the mountain people trying to escape, women and children and then boom, boom – two rockets right on the mountain,” said an Iraqi man who was among those who escaped in January. His account was corroborated by others who were present, who also described shells falling as they walked to the top of the mountain.

Those who escaped the area faced new struggles. Upon arrival at the first SDF checkpoint, escapees were left out in the cold, in some cases for over a day, without SDF forces providing them with blankets or aid, only a little food, and without access to humanitarian agencies. The SDF then transported them from the checkpoint to al-Omar oil field, where SDF and US forces screened the people and provided them with some food, but still required them to sleep out in the open, before finally transporting them to al-Hol camp, a displacement camp six hour’s drive away that is controlled by the Kurdish-led authorities in al-Hasakeh governorate. Human Rights Watch interviewed the escapees in the camp.

Video

Satellite: The rapid expansion of al Hol camp with thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting in Baghuz

Time series animation of satellite imagery showing the rapid expansion of al Hol camp with thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting in Baghuz (29 December 2018 to 20 February 2019). Image courtesy of Planet Labs Inc.

For weeks, transport to al-Hol was in open air trucks despite cold and rainy weather. Since December 4, at least 61 infants have died from hypothermia and malnutrition during the escape from Baghuz or shortly after arriving at the camp, according to the UN. Members of the Kurdish Red Crescent who were providing assistance to displaced civilians upon arrival confirmed that a number of infants died of hypothermia and malnutrition during the transfer.

While conditions have slightly improved since the start of the latest displacement, Human Rights Watch observed during multiday visits to al-Hol in mid-February that humanitarian needs of the displaced population remain high and that the camp administration lacks sufficient support.

Three women in the camp interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had lost their infants on the way, citing lack of medical care. Two of the children died while in al-Hol due to malnutrition and insufficient access to health care.

Local camp authorities said that the UN and aid agencies had been slow in helping them cope with the large influx and had refused to set up camps closer to the front line. They gave as an example a 15-day delay in the UN delivering tents to the camp as it reportedly awaited approval from Damascus. The UN blames local authorities for not facilitating access.

Satellite Imagery Analysis of Airstrikes and Shelling over Baghuz

Human Rights Watch analysis of satellite imagery of Baghuz identified over 600 distinct impact sites consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions between January 19 and February 19. Munitions of this size can pose an excessive risk to civilians when used in populated areas, given their large blast and fragmentation radius. The coalition should cease using explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.

Obligations of US-led Coalition members

International law says that parties to a conflict are required at all times to take all feasible precautions to avoid, and in any event to minimize, civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person should be considered a civilian. Where civilians are present at the site of a military objective, coalition forces should only target the military objective and determine that the harm caused to civilians or civilian property by any planned attack would be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in the attack.

If coalition forces failed to detect the presence of dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians in the vicinity of strike sites, this raises serious concerns about how coalition forces ascertain whether civilians are in the vicinity of a target and whether they took all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm. It also raises questions about how the coalition determines whether a person is a civilian or combatant, and whether coalition forces complied with the requirement to treat a person as civilian if there is doubt and with its obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In the United States and around the world, public concern is rising at the prospect of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention.

© 2018 Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

As the United States Department of Defense releases a strategy on artificial intelligence (AI), questions loom about whether the US government intends to accelerate its investments in weapons systems that would select and engage targets without meaningful human control.

The strategy considers a range of potential, mostly benign uses of AI and makes the bold claim that AI can help “reduce the risk of civilian casualties” by enabling greater accuracy and precision. The strategy commits to consider how to handle hacking, bias, and “unexpected behavior” among other concerns.

Scientists have long warned about the potentially disastrous consequences that could arise when complex algorithms incorporated into fully autonomous weapons systems created and deployed by opposing forces meet in warfare. How would the use of such learning systems conform with current US policy, which commits to “to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force”?

Fully autonomous weapons raise so many ethical, legal, technical, proliferation, and international security concerns that Human Rights Watch and other groups co-founded the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in early 2013 to push for a preemptive ban. At the end of that year, governments launched diplomatic talks on what they called lethal autonomous weapons systems. Yet progress towards addressing concerns has been hampered by the refusal of the US, Russia, and a handful of other states to work towards a concrete outcome.

Despite diplomatic setbacks, it’s clear that the notion of removing human control from weapons systems and the use of force is becoming increasingly unpopular or stigmatized. The United Nations secretary-general is urging states to prohibit such weapons before they are introduced, calling them “morally repugnant and politically unacceptable.” A new poll of 26 countries shows public opposition to fully autonomous weapons is rising rapidly and with it the expectation that governments will act to prevent the development of such weapons systems.

Yet the US remains steadfast in its refusal to consider any move to negotiate a new treaty to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapons. There are fears that an already meek 2012 Pentagon policy directive on autonomy in weapons systems could be overridden or replaced by a much weaker policy.

The AI strategy pledges that the Defense Department will only develop and use artificial intelligence in an “ethical” and “lawful” manner for “upholding and promoting our Nation’s values.” Yet such promises ring hollow at a time when the US continues to steadfastly resist efforts to regulate fully autonomous weapons through new legal measures. Without regulation in the form of a new treaty to ban fully autonomous weapons, policy pledges of self-restraint are unlikely to last long.

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

In the United States and around the world, public concern is rising at the prospect of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention.

© 2018 Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

(Washington, DC) – More than three in every five people responding to a new poll in 26 countries oppose the development of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention, Human Rights Watch said today.

The survey by the market research company Ipsos was commissioned by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which Human Rights Watch coordinates, and conducted in December 2018. Sixty one percent of respondents said they oppose the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as fully autonomous weapons, while 22 percent support such use and 17 percent said they were not sure. In a near-identical survey in 23 countries by the same company in January 2017, 56 percent were opposed, 24 percent not opposed, and 19 percent unsure.

“Public sentiment is hardening against the prospect of fully autonomous weapons,” said Mary Wareham, the Arms Division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Bold political leadership is needed for a new treaty to preemptively ban these weapons systems.”

The annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva decided in November 2018 to continue diplomatic talks on killer robots with no clear objective or timetable for negotiating a treaty, showing why a new avenue is urgently needed to prohibit these weapons before they become operational, Human Rights Watch said. In November, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called lethal autonomous weapons systems “politically unacceptable and morally repugnant” and urged states to prohibit them.

The 2018 Ipsos survey used respondent pools of 500 – 1,000 people in each country. The strongest opposition was in Turkey (78%), South Korea (74%), and Hungary (74%).

Opposition was strong for both women (62%) and men (60%) although men are more likely to favor these weapons (26%) compared to women (18%). Opposition increased with age: those most opposed were ages 50 to 64 (68%).

The 2018 Ipsos poll also asked those opposed to killer robots what concerned them the most. Two-thirds (66%) answered that lethal autonomous weapons systems would “cross a moral line because machines should not be allowed to kill.” More than half (54%) said the weapons would be “unaccountable.”

At the November meeting, governments agreed to continue diplomatic talks on lethal autonomous weapons systems in 2019. But the decision did not reflect the view of the majority of nations at the meeting that countries should begin formal negotiations of a legally binding treaty. The meeting rules, which permit a single country to thwart any action by the majority of countries, allowed Russia to block the start of negotiations and to reduce the amount of time devoted to the talks this year.

Russia, Israel, South Korea, and the United States indicated at the meeting that they would not support negotiations for a new treaty. These nations and China are investing significantly in weapons with decreasing levels of human control in their critical functions, prompting fears of widespread proliferation and arms races.

Since 2013, 28 countries have called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. El Salvador and Morocco added their names to the list during the November meeting. Austria, Brazil, and Chile formally proposed the urgent negotiation of “a legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems.

Past failures by the Convention on Conventional Weapons to stem human suffering caused by antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions resulted in external diplomatic processes that delivered life-saving treaties to ban the weapons. Those treaties were the result of partnerships between like-minded countries, UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and dedicated coalitions of nongovernmental organizations. The lack of agreement among nuclear weapons states to disarm led other countries to create the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons via the UN General Assembly.

Countries and other responsible entities should not hesitate to endorse and work for a ban on fully autonomous weapons, Human Rights Watch said. For example, in June, Google issued a set of ethical principles, including a commitment not to “design or deploy” artificial intelligence for use in weapons.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which Human Rights Watch is co-founder, is a rapidly growing coalition of 88 nongovernmental organizations in 50 countries coordinated by Human Rights Watch that is working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons. The campaign has opened a new website to replace the one used since its inception in 2013.

“The Ipsos poll shows that public expectations are rising for governments to take the threat of fully autonomous weapons seriously and be willing to take strong action to retain human control over the use of force,” Wareham said. “The security of the world and future of humanity hinges on achieving a ban on killer robots.”

 

Further Analysis of the Ipsos Surveys on Killer Robots

 

Overall Opposition to Killer Robots in 2018

The 2018 Ipsos poll was conducted in 26 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and United States. The 2017 Ipsos poll was conducted in 23 of these countries, but not in Colombia, Israel, or the Netherlands.

The 2018 poll slightly revises the question from the previous poll and states:

The United Nations is reviewing the strategic, legal and moral implications of lethal autonomous weapons systems. These weapons systems would be capable of independently selecting targets and attacking those targets without human intervention. They are thus different than current day “drones” where humans select and attack targets. How do you feel about the use of such lethal autonomous weapons systems in war?

In the 26 countries surveyed in 2018, 61 percent of the respondents opposed killer robots, while 22 percent were not opposed, and 17 percent were unsure or undecided.

Of those who expressed a view, nearly three times as many respondents said they opposed killer robots as those who were not opposed.

A majority of respondents in 20 countries opposed killer robots. In 15 of those countries, 60 percent or more were opposed: Turkey (78% opposed), South Korea (74%), Hungary (74%); Colombia (73%); Germany (72%); Sweden (71%), Netherlands (68%), Spain (65%), Peru (65%), Argentina (64%), Mexico (64%), Belgium (63%), Poland (62%), Canada (60%), and China (60%).

Notably, a majority also opposed killer robots in Russia (59%); the UK (54%); and the US (52%). These nations are often identified as most in favor of fully autonomous weapons and have worked against a prohibition on such weapons.

The only countries where a majority of respondents did not oppose killer robots were India (37%), Israel (41%), Brazil (46%); and Japan (48%).

 

Changes in Opposition to Killer Robots from January 2017 to December 2018

In the 26 countries surveyed in 2018, 61 percent of the respondents opposed killer robots, compared with 56 percent of 23 of the same countries in 2017.

Of the 23 countries surveyed in both 2017 and 2018, opposition to killer robots increased in 14, though some of the increases are within the margin of error.

The biggest increases in opposition were in: China (up 24 percentage points); Turkey (up 21 percentage points), France, Poland, Hungary (all up 13 percentage points), and South Korea (up 12 percentage points).

Increases also occurred in Sweden (up 9%); US (up 7%); Germany (up 7%); India, Canada, Italy, Australia, and Belgium all also saw increases, though the increases were within the margin of error.

Of the nine countries where opposition decreased, the change was just 1 percent or 2 percent in five of the countries. The only substantial decreases in opposition were in Russia (10%) and Brazil (6%). South Africa and Japan had decreases that were within the margin of error.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People are seen near a bus destroyed by an airstrike that killed dozens of children, in a photograph taken on August 12, 2018 in Saada, Yemen.

© 2018 Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

(Beirut) – The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi armed group engaged in a conflict in Yemen which have turned the country's humanitarian crisis into a full-blown catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

Since the armed conflict escalated in March 2015, the warring parties have committed numerous laws-of-war violations, worsened the country’s humanitarian situation, and failed to hold those responsible for war crimes to account. The United States, United Kingdom, France, and other weapons suppliers have risked complicity in abuses through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition governments. The United Nations has warned that without a dramatic change in the situation, nearly half of Yemen’s population will be at risk of starvation.

“The Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces have indiscriminately attacked, forcibly disappeared, and blocked food and medicine to Yemeni civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments around the globe can either do nothing while millions sink closer toward famine or use the leverage at their disposal to press the warring parties to end their abuses and impose sanctions on those obstructing aid.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

Yemen’s armed conflict has taken a terrible toll on the population. Fighting has killed and wounded thousands of civilians. Millions suffer from shortages of food and medical care, yet the warring parties continue impeding aid. Across the country, civilians suffer from a lack of basic services, a spiraling economic crisis, and broken governance, health, education, and judicial systems.

The coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting critical infrastructure and other civilian structures in violation of the laws of war. Houthi forces have recruited children, used landmines and fired artillery and rockets indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, and into Saudi Arabia. Houthi forces, government-affiliated forces, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared scores of people. Houthi forces have held people as hostages. Yemeni officials in Aden have beaten, raped, and tortured detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children.

The coalition has failed to conduct credible investigations into abuses, and coalition member countries have sought to avoid international legal liability by refusing to provide information on their forces’ role in unlawful attacks. The Houthi armed group also has not punished its commanders responsible for war crimes. Senior officials implicated in abuses remain in positions of authority across the country.

One cost of Yemen’s war has been the closing space for civil society groups. Warring parties have arrested, harassed, threatened, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists, journalists, lawyers, and rights defenders. Women activists, who have played a prominent role documenting abuses and advocating for their end, have been threatened, subjected to smear campaigns, beaten, and detained. Humanitarian aid workers have also been killed, wounded and detained.

“Rather than risk complicity in the next airstrike on a wedding or on a bus filled with children, the US, UK, and France should tell Saudi Arabia that weapons sales won’t continue until war crimes stop and those responsible are prosecuted,” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A member of Argentine National Gendarmerie aims his gun to demonstrators during a protest against government-proposed pension reforms as protesters march to Argentine National Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 14, 2017.

© 2017 Mariano Sanchez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
(Washington, D.C.) – A new government resolution in Argentina to regulate the use of firearms by security agents runs counter to basic human rights standards and could encourage shootings in unjustifiable circumstances, Human Rights Watch said today.

On December 3, 2018, the Argentine Security Ministry approved a resolution regarding the use of firearms by members of federal security forces. The resolution cites the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which provide authoritative guidance concerning use of force by security officers. However, the Argentine resolution contains loopholes and ambiguities that could allow security officers to employ firearms in an unacceptably broad set of circumstances.

“The resolution cites to the UN principles on the use of force, but in fact it fails to adhere to them,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The Argentine government should promptly review this resolution to ensure that it puts more appropriate limits on the use of firearms and clearly requires any deliberate lethal use of firearms to be strictly unavoidable to protect life.”

The government claimed that, under previous norms, federal agents could not use firearms to “detain delinquents or stop them from fleeing, even if they had killed or tried to kill someone,” nor to stop the commission of grave crimes because agents “had to wait until the aggressor shot first.”

The resolution establishes that federal security forces have an obligation to respect human dignity and human rights, and that they will only be able to use firearms when such use is strictly necessary and proportionate to “fulfil their duties.” It adds that security forces “will use” firearms in self-defense, or to protect someone else from an imminent risk to life or serious injury, to prevent a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting authority, or to prevent their escape.

However, the new provisions are inconsistent with human rights standards that strictly limit the use of firearms.

The resolution fails to distinguish between the use of firearms and the deliberately lethal use of firearms – that is, the distinction between shooting and shooting with intent to kill. This is another key distinction because, even in those limited cases where the use of firearms is justifiable, officers should generally not shoot to kill. Under the UN Basic Principles, the intentional lethal use of firearms is permissible only “when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

Moreover, the provisions allow federal security officials to use firearms when “non-violent means are ineffective,” without specifying that there are other means to use force that should be employed before using firearms.

Under the UN Basic Principles, security officers should only employ firearms when “less extreme means,” including violent ones, are insufficient. This is a key provision because it recognizes that firearms are more likely to cause death or injury than other uses of force. For that reason, security forces should use firearms not just where non-violent means are ineffective, but where other, less lethal modes of force are also impracticable. The resolution fails to maintain that principle, and for that reason seems to countenance shootings in a wide variety of unjustifiable scenarios.

The UN principles also lay out standards aimed at minimizing the use of force across the board, which are not explicitly included in Argentina’s new regulations. Specifically, law enforcement officials should “exercise restraint,” “minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.”

Moreover, the resolution includes vaguely worded examples of what would be considered an “imminent danger,” granting federal security forces broad discretion to use firearms. These include when a person is part of a group of two or more people and someone else holds a firearm or has injured a third party; when someone is running away after causing – or trying to cause – death or injuries to someone else; or when the “unforeseen nature of the attack” makes it impossible  for security officers to “carry out their duties.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am