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New weapon technologies under legal scrutiny

07-09-2011 News Release 11/184

Geneva (ICRC) – New weapon technologies in modern warfare, their humanitarian impact and their regulation under international humanitarian law will be the subject of a round table in San Remo, Italy, hosted by the International Institute of International Humanitarian Law and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from 8 to 10 September.

"The world of new technologies is neither a virtual world nor science fiction. In armed conflict, the new technologies can cause death and damage that is all too real," said Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the ICRC. "It is important to discuss the issues raised by their development, to assess their humanitarian consequences and to ensure that they are not prematurely employed under conditions where respect for the law cannot be guaranteed."

Cyber technology, remote-controlled weapon systems and robotic weapon systems are some of the new weapon technologies which will be at the core of the debates. Is it possible to ensure that attacks through cyber space are controllable and not indiscriminate? What is the status of those who operate drones thousands of miles away from the battlefield? Could robots be capable of the level of discrimination required under international humanitarian law?

New technologies can lead to better protection for civilians and civilian infrastructure, for instance by making it possible to take greater precaution or to use greater precision in attack. But they also bear risks. Ultimately, their compliance with international humanitarian law will depend mostly on the concrete use that is made of them, for which the parties to conflicts and individuals deploying them are responsible.

There is little doubt that these new technologies, like new technologies before them, are changing the landscape of war. And just as air warfare had to comply with the existing framework of international humanitarian law when it was introduced in the 20th century, so too must the new technologies of the 21st century comply with fundamental rules governing the means and methods of warfare.


For further information, please contact:
Philippe Stoll, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 31 40 or +41 79 536 92 49