Peacekeepers in the sky

A few months ago, Patrick Meier wrote about common misconceptions of Humanitarian UAVs. This post is part of his broader interest in the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for humanitarian response (Patrick founded UAViators, the Humanitarian UAV Network).  I responded with comments specific to the use of UAVs in conflict contexts, to which Patrick answered (as did Sanjana Hattotuwa). What we both agreed on was that the use of UAVs in conflict settings is complicated by a number of issues related to perceptions, politics, ethics and empowerment.

We’ve just co-authored a paper that tries to unpack some of these issues in the specific case of the use of UAVs for peacekeeping. It’s not got all the answers, and it’s not meant to – we want to spark more debate on this topic. We pay particular attention to questions around the data privacy of civilians (non-combatants) and the keystone humanitarian principle of informed consent, which we believe have so far largely been ignored. Edit (September 1, 2015): the paper has now been published in full by the ICT 4 Peace Foundation.

We are not peacekeeping or military experts, so our assessment of the use of UAVs to a military operation will inevitably fall short of other experts. What we hope to bring to this discussion is an ethical exploration based on an understanding of grassroots action and how the introduction of new technologies can alter the balance of power. In the case of UAVs and given the multidimensional nature of peacekeeping operations, we believe it is important to assess their use from this perspective too, and not only focus on military utility.

Next week, Patrick will be speaking at the Build Peace conference about lessons from humanitarians UAVs for peacebuilders. His talk (and the rest of the conference plenary sessions) will be livestreamed: follow #buildpeace and @howtobuildpeace on Twitter to get the livestream links and join the conversation.

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