Pillay slams electronic surveillance, armed drones in HR Day message
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 00:00
UN Human Rights Chief says new technologies not above international law
States must ensure their application, says Pillay
Future deployment of ‘killer robots’ pose “deeply troubling” legal and ethical questions, says UN Rights Chief
Continued vigilance is needed to ensure that new technologies advance rather than destroy human rights and in spite of the scale of these changes existing international laws governing the conduct of armed conflict remain applicable and states must ensure that they are applied, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay said in a statement issued to mark Human Rights Day yesterday.
Pillay said modern technology has changed the way human rights work is conducted. “But we have also seen how new technologies are facilitating the violation of human rights, with chilling 21st century efficiency. In breach of international law, mass electronic surveillance and data collection are threatening both individual rights, and the free functioning of a vibrant civil society,” the UN Human Rights Chief said, taking the issue of illegal data surveillance head on in her statement.
Pillay said a Tweet or Facebook post by a human rights defender can be enough to land him or her in jail. “Drones can be, and are being, used for positive purposes. But armed drones are also being deployed, without due legal process, for the remote targeting of individuals. So-called “killer robots” – autonomous weapons systems that can select and hit a target without human intervention – are no longer science fiction, but a reality,” she said.
Their likely future deployment poses deeply troubling ethical and legal questions, the UN Envoy noted.
Pillay said the fundamentals for protecting and promoting human rights are largely in place. She said these include a strong and growing body of international human rights law and standards, as well as institutions to interpret the laws, monitor compliance and apply them to new and emerging human rights issues.
“The key now is to implement those laws and standards to make enjoyment of human rights a reality on the ground. The political will, and the human and financial resources, to achieve this are too often lacking,” her statement said.
The UN Rights Chief noted that in the 20 years since Vienna have also, unfortunately, seen many setbacks and a number of tragic failures to prevent atrocities and safeguard human rights.
“In several instances where deplorable, large-scale violations of international human rights law were occurring, the international community was too slow, too divided, too short-sighted – or just plain inadequate in its response to the warnings of human rights defenders and the cries of victims,” she said.
Pillay observed that the Vienna Declaration should be viewed as a blueprint for a magnificent construction that is still only half built.
She noted that the UN Human Rights Office will continue to work with all our partners to try to prevent human rights breaches from occurring. We will continue to be vocal about human rights violations. “We will continue to ask States to do their part – the biggest part by far – to ensure that the tragic mistakes of the past are not repeated and that the human rights of all are protected and promoted,” Pillay said.
“We can – and we must – do better,” the UN Envoy emphasised.