Could drones – currently used by the CIA for targeted assassinations (just don’t call them that, especially as they often seem untargeted) – be used for good? Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Mark Hanis, co-founders of the Genocide Intervention Network, seem to think so…
Imagine if we could watch in high definition with a bird’s-eye view. A drone would let us count demonstrators, gun barrels and pools of blood. And the evidence could be broadcast for a global audience, including diplomats at the United Nations and prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.
In some ways it is not so very different to what George Clooney is already doing with his Satellite Sentinel Project. And it is not the first time it has been tried with drones. Sam Bell once tried to buy a drone in his hols to fly over Darfur…
The executives offered an old, low-end, limited- range UAV for $5 million. That was still, as Bell puts it, “a bit out of our price range,” but he thought it might be worth splurging–until he and fellow anti-genocide crusader Mark Hanis ran their potential purchase by an expert.
Oh, so Hanis has form. And has already been told once it was bonkers.
Anyway, this time he reckons he has the arguments licked with an interesting mix of good intentions and an appeal to everyone’s favourite freedom fighter…
This sounds a lot like surveillance, and it would be. It would violate Syrian airspace, and perhaps a number of Syrian and international laws. It isn’t the kind of thing nongovernmental organizations usually do. But it is very different from what governments and armies do. Yes, we (like them) have an agenda, but ours is transparent: human rights. We have a duty, recognized internationally, to monitor governments that massacre their own people in large numbers. Human rights organizations have always done this. Why not get drones to assist the good work?
Well, here’s one reason. A black and white, name em and shame em approach to human rights isn’t the only show in town. Lots of organisations have taken a different stand to ensure they retain access to people hurt or imprisoned. You might want to check with the Red Cross and see how they feel about this. But if your aim is to escalate a conflict and ensure aid agencies are prevented from entering, then this is exactly the right course to follow. And then what about the legal status of invading a country’s airspace?
It may be illegal in the Syrian government’s eyes, but supporting Nelson Mandela in South Africa was deemed illegal during the apartheid era. To fly over Syria’s territory may violate official norms of international relations, but governments do this when they support opposition groups with weapons, money or intelligence, as NATO countries did recently in Libya. In any event, violations of Syrian sovereignty would be the direct consequence of the Syrian state’s brutality, not the imperialism of outsiders.
Of course in Libya there was also the small matter of UN resolution. But anyway, what’s the harm when you mean well?