Israel

note

Given the conflicting and imprecise* dispatches on reports that Palestine seeks to join a raft of treaties including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the item above, just posted on the U.N. media website, is welcome. It states in full:

Notes to correspondents
Note to Correspondents in response to questions on documents submitted by the Permanent Observer of Palestine

New York, 2 January 2015

In response to questions, the Spokesman had the following to say about Palestinian submission of documents:

The Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations in New York has transmitted to the Secretariat copies of documents relating to the accession of Palestine to 16 international conventions and treaties in respect of which the Secretary-General performs depositary functions. These include the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The original versions of these documents were delivered on 1 January 2015 to the Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the PLO and the PA. The documents are being reviewed with a view to determining the appropriate next steps.

 

* E.g., it has not been possible to “sign” the Rome Statute since Israel and the United States became the last 2 states to do so, on Dec. 31, 2000. Both of those latter (and with them, Sudan) later attempted to “unsign,” an act previously unknown to international law. None of the three has since ratified.

schabas3

Readers no doubt are well aware that in July the U.N. Human Rights Council resolved to set up

an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Soon after, the Council’s President, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella of Gabon, announced appointments to the Gaza Commission: as finally constituted, the commission comprises a chair, Professor William A. Schabas of Canada, who holds academic posts at inter alia London’s Middlesex Law and the Netherlands’ Leiden Law, along with 2 members: Dr. Doudou Diène of Senegal, who has served in the past as the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and also as its Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire; and Mary McGowan Davis of the United States, formerly a state trial judge and federal prosecutor in New York.

The appointment of Schabas, my longtime colleague, was met with astounding commentary from some sectors. In the 9-minute video pictured above and available here – an interview broadcast yesterday on CNN – Schabas responds to that critique. He further outlines the work of the commission going forward, as well as its potential interrelation with the work of the International Criminal Court.

nwc_leftCan the laws of war constrain robot warriors? Is international humanitarian law adaptable to the use of weapons that possess artificial intelligence? To what extent can such weapon systems determine who is, and who is not, a combatant? To what extent must humans control the decision to kill the enemy?

These questions and others fostered a fascinating discussion at “Legal Implications of Autonomous Weapon Systems,” a workshop at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, this past Thursday and Friday. We four dozen or so attendees were drawn from the armed forces of the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, and Israel, from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and from a global array of academic institutions.

As one who reserves just a couple days for the topic in my Laws of War course, I came to the workshop with more questions than answers about the actual and potential uses in armed conflict of robots, the shorthand term I’ll use here for “autonomous weapons systems.” The military, characteristically, prefers an acronym: AWS.

The actual use of such weapons already is significant. Smart missiles called JDAMs deliver munitions to a target, while a WALL·E-looking machine called SWORDS has, as the U.S. Department of Defense wrote in 2004, “march[ed] into battle” alongside troops.

In fact, such machines tend not to be used in a fully independent manner (though with a little reprogramming, some could be). They are, we were told, semi-autonomous – humans are kept “in” or “on” the loop leading to choice of target and other decisions.

This mention of human supervision, like the WALL·E-on-the-march metaphor above, pointed to a pivotal workshop topic:

nwc_right►  Is it appropriate, as a matter of law or of ethics, to indulge in the human tendency to anthropomorphize these machines?

Apparently, some lab robots can recognize – or at least can mimic the act of recognizing – themselves in a mirror. Does this mean they are, or soon will be, sufficiently human-like to conduct operations wholly without oversight by actual humans? Might human-like robots evolve an ability to refuse programmed orders – orders that limited action to the boundaries of international humanitarian law? The answers to these questions, like many at the workshop, seemed to be “perhaps yes, perhaps no.”

At one end of the spectrum, this uncertainty has spurred a call for an outright ban. Emblematic is the headline of a notice about the November 2012 release of the Human Rights Watch report, Losing Humanity:

‘Ban ‘Killer Robots’ Before It’s Too Late: Fully Autonomous Weapons Would Increase Danger to Civilians’

At the other end of the spectrum, some would prefer to let the technology develop before the onset of any new legal regulation.

Many seem to fall in between. Acknowledged were some challenges; for instance:

► Does compliance with the precautions requirement of Article 57 of the Additional Protocol I (1977) to the four Geneva Conventions (1949) preclude the use of a fully autonomous weapon?

► Would the robotic commission of a war crime be susceptible to sanctions by global justice mechanisms like the International Criminal Court, and if not, what effective sanctions and deterrents would there be?

Persons falling in the vast middle of the regulatory spectrum harbored concerns about such questions, yet seemed to lean toward the view that if due care is taken, international humanitarian law can – and should – be applied. Documents discussed in this vein included the:

► U.S. Department of Defense Directive 3000.09, ¶ 4(a) (November 12, 2012), which states as “DoD policy” the following:

‘Autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgement over the use of force.’

heyns► April 9, 2013 report to the U.N. Human Rights Council by University of Pretoria Law Professor Christof Heyns, who’s served since 2010 as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. At ¶ 108 of his report, Heyns termed the 2012 Defense Directive as “imposing a form of moratorium” with respect to what he termed “lethal autonomous robotics,” or LARs. Heyns’ 2013 U.N. report (¶ 35) favored a broader scope for delay:

‘The present report … calls on States to impose national moratoria on certain activities related to LARs.’

A reprise of such issues likely will occur at the Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems set for May 13 to 16 in Geneva under the auspices of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Named in full the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects as amended on 21 December 2001, this treaty has 117 states parties, including the United States.

The Naval War College International Law Department workshop’s vital and timely discussion exposed many avenues for study – study sooner rather than later, so that the legal regulatory framework may be determined before fully autonomous robots are fully deployed.

UN_Members_FlagsEven before yesterday’s news that Israel might follow Syria in joining the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, worth noting was recent state action on treaties intended to increase international peace and security, for children and adults alike.

In the course of last week’s U.N. Treaty Event, lots of press was given to the United States’ lone show of support in this area; that is, Thursday’s signing of the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty. Yet at least as significant as that tentative show of support – also made by more than a score of other states – were countries’ full joinders of various pacts. (photo credit) Here’s what happened with regard to some other treaties of interest:

Peace, security, accountability

► 2010 Amendments on the crime of aggression to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Andorra, Cyprus, Slovenia, and Uruguay ratified or accepted, bringing the total number of adherents to 11. The United States is not among them. As detailed in posts here and here, these amendments cannot take effect any earlier than 2017, and then only if 30 states have accepted and a further vote has been taken. According to tweets from the Crime of Aggression project, countries working toward ratification include Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, New Zealand, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland. If all join, the amendments would be 6 short of the minimum required.

► 2010 Amendment to Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Andorra, Cyprus, Slovenia, and Uruguay ratified or accepted this treaty, which would enumerate as crimes in non-international armed conflict certain acts now prohibited only with respect to international armed conflict. The total number of adherent now stands at 14. The United States has not approved these amendments, which cannot take effect any earlier than 2017, and then only if 30 states have accepted and a further vote has been taken.

► 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty: Guinea-Bissau ratified, bringing the total number of parties to 161. Despite the high level of participation, this treaty cannot enter into force unless certain countries have joined. Among those is the United States, which signed in 1996 but has not ratified, the Senate having rejected the treaty in 1999.

► 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment: Guinea-Bissau ratified, bringing to 154 the total number of parties – the United States among them. Angola signed; the treaty has 80 signatories.

► 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide: Guinea-Bissau acceded, bringing to 143 the total number of parties – the United States among them.

► 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance: Guinea-Bissau signed this treaty, which entered into force in 2010. It now has 93 signatories and 40 parties. The United States has neither signed nor ratified.

Children’s rightsUnicef_Children

► 2011 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure: Montenegro and Portugal ratified this treaty, which would allow children to bring complaints to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. That brings the total number of adherents to 8; the treaty cannot enter into force until after the deposit of 10 instruments of ratification or accession. Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, and Seychelles signed, bringing the total number of signatories to 42. The United States has neither signed nor ratified this treaty.

► 2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography: the Russian Federation ratified this treaty, which entered into force in 2002. That brings to 165 the total number of parties. The United States is among them.

Complete record of Treaty Event activities here.

Samantha_Power_White_House_PhotoSurprised to read, in testimony prepared for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, that the nominee to become the United States’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations claims Georgia as her home – so much so that the state’s 2 Senators, both Republicans, were tapped to present her nomination to their colleagues. Samantha Power said:

‘I would also like to thank Senator Chambliss and Senator Isakson for their generous introductions. Growing up as an Irish immigrant in Atlanta, Georgia, I cannot say that the United Nations was a popular topic with my classmates at Lakeside High School. But it was in Georgia, while working at a local television station, that I witnessed footage of the horrible massacres in Tiananmen Square and resolved that I would do what I could the rest of my life to stand up for American values and to stand up for freedom. My Georgia friends supported me every step of the way, and I am now very proud to count these two great public servants among them.’

Power’s testimony then moved to her views on the significance of the United Nations in today’s world. Not long ago, I predicted that 5 principles, articulated in her most recent book and detailed in my prior post, would inform the approach of Power (above) to U.N. matters. (photo credit) Her prepared testimony provided a partial confirmation of that. Aspects of those principles were evident in the “three key priorities” she cited in her testimony. To be precise: consistent with the previously mentioned principles, 2 priorities focused on:

  • Efficiency and effectiveness as markers of legitimacy
  • Dignity, defined in part by promoting human security

Prefacing these was another priority, one of:

  • U.N. fairness

Notably this priority, stated 1st in yesterday’s testimony, dwelt mostly on what Power characterized as a practice by which the United Nations’ “General Assembly and Human Rights Council continue to pass one-sided resolutions condemning Israel above all others.”