How Humanitarian Drones Could Be Used

by OpenCanada Staff

The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention is an NGO establishing an early warning system to identity communities at risk of genocide and other mass atrocities worldwide. Currently, eight countries have been identified where minorities may be at risk of extermination by either the state or non-state actors. The Sentinel Project is monitoring these situations of concern (SOCs) and seeks to cooperate with threatened communities in preventing or mitigating mass atrocities. The innovative use of technology plays a prominent role in the entire prediction and prevention process, including gathering and analyzing data, broadcasting warnings, and building communal resilience. A new initiative at the Sentinel Project is the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to use in such cases. This map highlights the current SOCs and examples of what types of UAVs may be beneficial in each one.

 

Azerbaijan

The ethnic Armenian population in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh is vulnerable and frequently the object of hate speech, sometimes by government officials. Conflict with neighbouring Armenia has been unresolved since a vicious war during the early 1990s in which 30,000 people were killed, many as a result of atrocities against civilians on both sides. Military tensions seem to be escalating once more, and if they lead to renewed full-scale conflict then the Armenian minority within Azerbaijan is at risk of atrocities.

Possible drone use: Multirotors could be used to conduct local-level surveillance to warn at-risk communities as well as document any atrocities that do occur and identify perpetrators for later prosecution.

 

Burma

As a country in transition between authoritarianism and democracy, Burma is vulnerable to instability and mass violence, especially considering that several long-running conflicts continue between ethnic rebels and the central government despite ongoing reforms in the capital. Recent attacks on the much-maligned Rohingya Muslim population by members of the Buddhist majority demonstrate the still-precarious position of many minority groups – such as the Karen and Kachin – that have long histories of persecution and relatively little contact with the outside world.

Possible drone use: Lighter-than-air dirigibles could provide communication links to border areas that have almost no mobile phone or internet connectivity, thereby enhancing human rights documentation. Fixed-wing aircraft could also penetrate otherwise poorly accessible border regions to document atrocities or monitor military movements.

 

Colombia

Tensions in Colombia remain high as government military forces continue to fight rebels, many of whom are also linked to the narcotics trade. Many indigenous groups are caught in the middle of the conflict as they seek to prevent these two abusive forces from occupying their land. An additional threat comes from non-state paramilitary groups, which also periodically fight both the rebels and the government, often perceiving indigenous groups as economic obstacles or threats despite their peaceful advocacy for improved rights. Any major failure of the ongoing peace process could escalate hostilities again and provide an opportunity for any of these actors to target indigenous communities.

Possible drone use: Multirotors could be used to conduct local-level surveillance to warn at-risk communities as well as document any atrocities that do occur and identify perpetrators for later prosecution.

 

Iran

Iranian Baha’is have a long history of persecution at the hands of extremists and successive regimes that view them as a heretical sect of Islam. This persecution has often been violent, and has only intensified since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which transformed Iran into an Islamic theocracy. Baha’is have been systematically shut out of public life. They have been forbidden to work for the government or to engage in either public or private education. They have had their legal rights curtailed, have been almost completely shut out of the economy, and their community leaders are currently imprisoned. Numerous Baha’i religious sites have also been demolished by state and religious authorities. Often accused of being foreign agents in the service of Israel and the United States, Baha’is may suffer more intense attacks if one of these external enemies launches a military strike on Iran. The regime may see this as an opportunity to crack down and eliminate its perceived internal enemies.

Possible drone use: Due to the small and decentralized nature of the Iranian Baha’i population, as well as the difficulty of moving equipment into the country, UAVs do not currently appear to be an appropriate tool to employ in this situation.

 

Indonesia

This large nation of islands is both ethnically and religiously diverse, with many minority groups that find their rights abused and subordinated to the political and economic interests of the state and dominant culture. A variety of conflicts of varying intensities have existed for decades throughout the country, notably in Aceh and Papua. Considering the historical precedent the Indonesian military has set for achieving its goals through mass atrocities – notably, to crush the independence movement in East Timor – it is conceivable that it would respond brutally to any minority group’s moves for greater autonomy, especially if those moves threatened vital economic resources.

Possible drone use: Multirotors could be used to conduct local-level surveillance to warn at-risk communities as well as document any atrocities that do occur and identify perpetrators for later prosecution. Fixed-wing aircraft could also be used to patrol larger territories and identify military or militia movements.

 

Kenya

Kenya is a deeply divided country with a history of ethnic rivalry and antagonism, usually tied closely to politics at all levels, from local to national. The country once enjoyed relative peace and stability, but the recent transition to democracy has seen episodes of large-scale violence as different groups compete for power. The post-election violence of 2007-08, for instance, killed 1,200 people and displaced more than 200,000. Unless addressed effectively, this situation is likely to produce further unrest that could escalate into mass atrocities, especially as another election approaches (March 4, 2013) and tensions increase, with several small-scale massacres already seen recently.

Possible drone use: Multirotors could be used to conduct local-level surveillance to warn at-risk communities as well as document any atrocities that do occur and identify perpetrators for later prosecution.

 

Kyrgyzstan

This Central Asian country is home to a mixture of the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik ethnic groups, which have a history of antagonism under Kyrgyz domination. Significant ethnic violence broke out in June 2010 surrounding the southern city of Osh, killing 800-2,000 people (estimates vary), wounding several thousand others, and displacing tens of thousands more. The majority of those killed during several days of fighting were Uzbeks, but the government later blamed only members of this group for the violence, and the only people prosecuted for the violence so far have been Uzbek. Members of this ethnic group continue to be oppressed and underrepresented in the government. With the underlying sources of tension remaining unresolved, similar violence could occur again, possibly on an even larger scale.

Possible drone use: Multirotors could be effective for local-level warning and documentation since they are well-suited to operating in the urban environments where the majority of the violence occurred in 2010, and where violence is likely to break out again.

 

Sri Lanka

Analysis of the current situation in Sri Lanka according to political, economic, and sociocultural risk factors indicates that many of the structural preconditions for mass atrocities are present. While there are also indications of improved relations between the ruling Sinhala ethnic group and Tamil minority, tensions remain high following the 2009 conclusion to a long-running civil war. Large numbers of civilians were killed in the course of a decisive government victory over Tamil rebel forces. Some were killed because rebel forces used them as human shields, but many were killed due to indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas as well as other atrocities committed by both sides. Tamils remain second-class citizens in many ways, and continuing tensions make it likely that rebel forces will resume combat when they are reconstituted. This renewed conflict is almost certain to involve atrocities.

Possible drone use: Multirotors could be used to conduct local-level surveillance to warn at-risk communities as well as document any atrocities that do occur and identify perpetrators for later prosecution. Fixed-wing aircraft could also be used to patrol larger territories and identify both government military and rebel movements.


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