Reflecting on the Australian Feminist Law Journal special issue, ‘Gender, War, and Technology: Peace and Armed Conflict in the Twenty-First Century’

The nexus between war and technology has developed alongside the rapid expansion of military might and spending, evident in recent decades. Militaries have advanced their weapon systems and in theory saved civilian and military lives in the process. Weapons are now more accurate, theoretically cause less destruction to surrounding infrastructure, and require less time to deploy. Drones, for instance, can target ‘hostiles’ from miles away allowing the operator to never physically come in contact with the violence of war. Specialty ‘armour’ can better protect soldiers and make their job more efficient, by providing weight distribution. Therefore, soldiers (both men and women) will likely become less exhausted from carrying out common tasks and would therefore be allegedly clearer of mind when making key decisions on the battlefield. But, are these all welcome achievements? And, are individuals to accept these achievements at face value?

Alongside the development of these military technologies there has been a push from scholars to recognise that technology, war, and law are not the only sites of intersection. Gender, as a starting point for scholarship on war and technology, and as a tool to investigate the ways in which technology is used, understood, and imagined within military and legal structures and in war, offers an analysis that questions the pre-existing biases in international law and in feminist spaces. Using gender as a method for examination as well as feminist legal scholarship, expands the way military technologies are understood as influencing human lives both on and off the battlefield. This type of analysis disrupts the use of gender to justify and make palatable new military technologies. The Australian Feminist Law Journal’s special issue entitled ‘Gender, War, and Technology: Peace and Armed Conflict in the Twenty-First Century’ (Volume 44, Issue 1, 2018) has tacked key issues and questions that emanate precisely from the link between the concepts of ‘gender, war, and technology’ which editors Jones, Kendall, and Otomo draw out through their own writing and various contributing author’s perspectives.

The following thoughts/questions, which developed while reading this issue, speak to the critiques waged within these articles, and from the developments this issue’s engagement with these topics have generated. As this contribution suggests, intersectional issues remain ever present within new technological advances, which begs the question who are the programmers? If the desire and use of technology to gain military advantage is coming from a place of primarily white, Western, heteronormative, masculine, and secure socio-economic status, then does the method of technological advancement and deployment become defined along similar identities? Does the use of such technology change command structures whereby the weapon becomes ‘in charge’? Continue reading

Work On! ICCT Advanced Summer Programme

Work On! is an occasional item about workshops, roundtables, and other fora that do not necessarily include publication:

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 8.43.00 PMThe International Centre for Counter Terrorism with the T.M.C. Asser Institute is hosting an Advanced Summer Programme on August 28-September 1, 2017, at The Hague. Theme is “Countering Terrorism: Legal Challenges and Dilemmas.” Deadline to register is July 23, 2017. Details here. Preliminary programme here.

International Law And National Security: A View From Abroad On Current Trends In Targeting, Detention, And Trials

On May 18, from 6-7:30 pm, in Cardozo Law School’s Moot Court Room, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Cardozo Law School will co-host an essential program for anyone interested in the application of international law to national security.

This event will feature some of the most active and respected experts in the field from abroad to discuss their view of international law and national security in the United States and around the globe in light of recent political upheavals. The panel will be moderated by yours truly (Prof. Beth Van Schaack of Stanford Law School).

For further information, please see the flyer below. There will be a reception after the event.

To register: Eventbriteppflyernorsvp.

Call for Papers: “Revisiting the Role of International Law in National Security”

Many conversations in the U.S. about situations of armed conflict – within civil society, academia, and the U.S. government – center on “national security law,” often drawing primarily from domestic law and military perspectives.  International law is sometimes set aside in these discussions.   This workshop, now in its second year, aims to draw the international legal aspects of armed conflicts to the forefront of national security discussions.

The workshop – co-organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross’s Delegation in Washington, and faculty at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, Stanford Law School, and Cardozo School of Law – is for public international law scholars and practitioners.  It aims to drive discussions of public international law, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law, into conversations, in the U.S. in particular, on national security issues and situations of armed conflict.

The workshop will provide time to discuss scholarly articles that are in process, and provide a networking opportunity for participants.  The organizers are particularly interested in discussing scholarship and ideas that seeks to bridge partisan political divides while addressing both the law and national interests.

The organizers invite you to submit an abstract or draft of an article for discussion.  A small number of papers will be selected for discussion at the workshop.  The article does not need to be in final form – the hope is that participants will receive substantive feedback on works-in-progress.

When:  May 18th, 2017 (full day)

Where:  Cardozo Law School, New York City

Submissions:  Please send your name, current affiliation, and paper proposal to Tracey Begley, trbegley@icrc.org.

Deadline for submissions:  Monday, March 20, 2017   

A limited amount of travel funds may be available.

Co-organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross Delegation for the United States and Canada, and faculty at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, Stanford Law School and Cardozo Law School.

Read On! ‘Human Security and Human Rights under International Law: The Protections Offered to Persons Confronting Structural Vulnerability’

I am thrilled to post for the first time in IntLawGrrls and to share the publication of my book Human Security and Human Rights under International Law: The Protections Offered to Persons Confronting Structural Vulnerability (Hart Publishing, 2016).

This book considers the potential of human security as a protective tool within the international law of human rights. Indeed, it seems surprising given the centrality of human security to the human experience, that its connection with human rights had not yet been explored in a truly systematic way. The book attempts to address that gap in the literature and sustains that the human rights of persons, particularly those facing structural vulnerability, can be addressed more adequately if studied through the complementary lens of human security and not under human rights law alone. It takes both a legal and interdisciplinary approach, recognizing that human security and its relationship with human rights cuts across disciplinary boundaries.

Human security with its axis of freedom from fear, from want and from indignity, can more integrally encompass the inter-connected risks faced by individuals and groups in vulnerable conditions. At the same time, human rights law provides the normative legal grounding usually lacking in human security. International human rights norms, individualistic in nature and firstly enacted more than sixty years ago, present limits which translate into lack of protection for people globally. As a result, the collective and contextual conditions undergone by persons can be better met through the broader and more recent notion of human security, which emphasizes ‘critical (severe) and pervasive (widespread) threats’, and accentuates socioeconomic vulnerabilities as authentic security concerns. Indeed, as signaled by Sadako Ogata, human security is ‘the emerging paradigm for understanding global vulnerabilities’.

The analysis follows a two-part approach. Firstly, it evaluates convergences between human security and all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural –and constructs a general framework for thought and action, the ‘human security – human rights synergy’. Secondly, it goes on to explore the practical application of this framework in the law and case-law of UN, European, Inter-American and African human rights bodies in the thematic cores of 1) violence against women and girls (VAW); 2) undocumented migrants and other non-citizens such as asylum-seekers and refugees; converging in 3) a particular examination of the conditions of female undocumented migrants. In the last chapter, the book systematizes this evidence to reveal and propose added values of human security to human rights law; and inversely, it indicates how human rights standards/indicators can deliver a needed more precise, normatively grounded and operational conception of human security.

These ‘interpretative synergies’ offer promise for shifting the boundaries of international human rights law: in constructing integrative approaches to fill legal gaps, better prevention and addressing protectively collective threats, and –in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- creating an ‘enabling environment’ to fulfil all human rights, especially for those not only confronting isolated moments of risk or individual human rights violations, but rather conditions of structural vulnerability affecting their everyday lives. Continue reading

Trump Inauguration Events Jan 19, 2017

President Elect Donald Trump’s only tweet in the last seven hours (as of about 3pm EST, Jan 19th), is the relatively inoffensive, “Getting ready to leave for Washington, D.C. The journey begins and I will be working and fighting very hard to make it a great journey for..the American people. I have no doubt that we will, together, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

This restraint is remarkable, given what the citizenry has grown to expect. The legal issues raised by Donald Trump and his incoming administration are almost too many to enumerate, so we can be glad at least for this slight pause in his output.

Let’s take stock briefly.

Continue reading

Blind Eye in the Sky

Five thoughts about targeted killings following the new Hollywood targeted killings fiction ‘Eye in the Sky’:

1. ‘Eye in the Sky’ treats intelligence as certain facts. It reinforces the illusion that we have all the information, and that the information that we have is beyond doubt. In fact, intelligence is limited and uncertain in various ways. First, we only have what we are able to collect. As terrorists act in clandestine, data collection is challenging. Some data are beyond our reach, while other data are inaccurate, false or wrongly interpreted. Second, interpreting intelligence becomes even more challenging, as we are yet to agree on what defines a terrorist act or who should be characterized as terrorist. Third, reliance on sophisticated technology does not solve these inherent uncertainties, as data analysis by robust algorithms is as limited as the partial information on which it is based. Paradoxically, the reliance on sophisticated technology might even reduce uncertainty, as it might increase risk aversion and overconfidence in what we (think we) know and in the decisions that we make.

2. The scenario is as unrealistic as the torture ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario. Typically, targeted killing operations do not target suspected terrorists who wear explosives and are ready to bomb a shopping mall. In fact, when suspected terrorists do wear explosives and are embarking on a suicide bombing operation no one would argue that they should not be attacked. However, there are often alternatives to a hellfire attack on a home in a residential neighborhood. The movie’s choice to present this method as the only option, with no alternatives either in method or time, shadows the real debate concerning bombing a civilian home in a residential neighborhood due to the apparent presence of suspected terrorists nearby. Indeed, in many US targeted killing operations in Pakistan and Syria many civilians were killed or injured and numerous civilian residences were destroyed, leaving local families without a roof or shelter. Conveniently, the movie deserts the residential neighborhood immediately after the attack, and chooses to focus, instead, on the trauma caused to the US pilot and drone operators.

3. Women in the military or politics (or elsewhere) do not burst into tears every time something bad happens. The scene when the male General berates the female secretary of foreign affairs for criticizing him while ‘eating her biscuits and drinking her tea’ and then tells her she should ‘never tell a soldier he doesn’t understand the price of war,’ is chauvinistic and insulting. The fact that she responded to this insult with massive crying just made it worse. Similarly, the female drone operator cried so much she could barely follow her instructions, while her superior male pilot shed a tear or two, but kept it cool; sensitive yet in full control.

4. The one realistic point in the script was the way the Somali agent was treated: as disposable. Sent again and again on suicide missions, based on the racist assumption that all Somalis look alike. His life were the only ones left completely out of the algorithm’s robust calculations.

5. Finally, watching this movie a few months after British and US forces targeted an ISIS hacker in northern Syria and killed instead 3 innocent bystanders and wounded 5, and shortly after a US force continuously fired at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, killing 30 people, mostly medical staff and patients and completely destroying the only free trauma center in northern Afghanistan, portrayed the dilemmas in this Hollywood fiction as both unrealistic and self-righteous.

Similarly to so many other mainstream TV shows and movies, ‘Eye in the Sky’ continues the efforts to simplify and dogmatize a complex reality, and proves the maxim that ‘the first casualty of war is the truth.’ By using fake dichotomies between good and bad, us and them, now or never, the movie erodes some of the most important moral dilemmas of our time.