Assessing the Impact of Novel Technologies for Humanitarian Protection in Armed Conflict

The digitalization of warfare proceeds quickly, as witnessed during the international armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020 or the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

A key question related to the increasing employment of digital technologies in warfare – artificial intelligence/machine learning, drones, swarms, or ‘human enhancement’ technologies – is whether the existing legal frameworks, including international humanitarian law (IHL), are up to the task when it comes to the efficacy of the law of armed conflict and the protection it affords.

Written by Dr Henning Lahmann, our new Working Paper The Future Digital Battlefield and Challenges for Humanitarian Protection: A Primer provides an overview of the various novel technologies that together form part of the ‘future digital battlefield’ and assesses some of the implications they have for humanitarian protection in armed conflict.

Guiding Future Research on Disruptive Military Technologies

Based on the discussions during a high-level expert workshop conducted in August 2021, the paper identifies five main aspects regarding humanitarian protection that merit further research:

  1. Threshold questions, i.e. whether existing IHL is applicable to the use of digital technologies that might violate the rights of protected persons and objects in modern conflict
  2. The ‘military surveillance paradigm’, i.e. the increasing use of personal data to train and employ systems utilizing machine-learning algorithms and other forms of artificial intelligence
  3. The increasing spatial and temporal dissolution of the conflict zone due to potentially global and constant effects of digital warfare technologies
  4. The question of the positive legal obligations states have to control and safeguard digital warfare technologies
  5. The overarching question, how accountability and responsibility of persons and states employing digital warfare technologies can be ensured.

Without attempting to provide definitive answers, the paper gives an overview of these issues and hints at possible legal solutions.

‘This paper frames the entire topic of our research project ‘Disruptive Military Technologies’ on a general level, identifies the most contentious legal issues, and thus serves as a very good basis for subsequent research we will carry out within this project’s scope’ explains Professor Marco Roscini, Swiss IHL Chair at the Geneva Academy.

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Map of the RULAC online portal News

Renewed Fighting Prompts the Reclassification of a Non-International Armed Conflict in Southern Thailand

22 August 2022

Renewed fighting – despite ongoing peace talks – prompted the reclassification of the armed violence between Thailand and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate (BRN) on our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict online portal.

Read more

Armoured vehicle patrolls the border, Tajikistan News

RULAC: Fighting between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Amounts to an International Armed Conflict

26 September 2022

According to our RULAC online portal, the border fighting between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that took place in mid-September 2022 amounts to an international armed conflict (IAC).

Read more

Persons walking in front of a blue wall Event

Strike While It's Hot: Protecting and Advancing Human Rights Online

4 October 2022, 13:15-14:45

This side event at the margins of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council will discuss areas of progress as well as critical gaps in the international affirmation and protection of human rights in the digital age.

Read more

Afghanistan, Parwan detention facility. Inside a room where detainees of the prison, separated by an acrylic glass, are allowed to meet with their families a couple of times per year with the help of the ICRC employees who facilitate the programme. Short Course

Preventing and Combating Terrorism

27 April - 8 June 2023

This online short course discusses the extent to which states may limit and/or derogate from their international human rights obligations in order to prevent and counter-terrorism and thus protect persons under their jurisdiction.

Read more

Ukraine, damaged bicycle and car in front of a destroyed building Short Course

The Law of International Armed Conflicts – Hague Law

17 November - 10 January 2023

After having followed this online short course, participants will know who the protected persons and goods are and what rules of IHL can be used for their protection in an international armed conflict. An overview of the rules applicable in non-international armed conflicts will also be given.

Read more

On the screen, on the screen is Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), briefing the Security Council on the 70th Anniversary of Geneva Conventions. Project

International Humanitarian Law and the United Nations Security Council

Completed in January 2020

Read more

A session of the UN Human Rights Committtee at Palais Wilson Project

Implementing International Humanitarian Law Through Human Rights Mechanisms

Completed in April 2019

This project examined how IHL could be more systematically, appropriately and correctly dealt with by the human rights mechanisms emanating from the UN Charter, as well as from universal and regional treaties.

Read more

Cover of the Publication Publication

The Future Digital Battlefield and Challenges for Humanitarian Protection: A Primer

published on April 2022

Henning Lahmann

Read more