People's Stories Justice

The Future of Artificial Intelligence
by Mary Wareham
Advocacy Director, Arms Division - Human Rights Watch
28 Nov. 2022
Ten years ago, Human Rights Watch united with other civil society groups to co-found the Stop Killer Robots campaign in response to emerging military technologies in which machines would replace human control in the use of armed force.
There is now widespread recognition that weapons systems that select and attack targets without meaningful human control represent a dangerous development in warfare, with equally disastrous implications for policing. At the United Nations in October, 70 countries, acknowledged that autonomy in weapons systems raises “serious concerns from humanitarian, legal, security, technological and ethical perspectives.”
Delegating life-and-death decisions to machines crosses a moral line, as they would be incapable of appreciating the value of human life and respecting human dignity. Fully autonomous weapons would reduce humans to objects or data points to be processed, sorted and potentially targeted for lethal action.
A U.N. Human Rights Council resolution adopted Oct. 7 stresses the central importance of human decision-making in the use of force. It warns against relying on nonrepresentative data sets, algorithm-based programming and machine-learning processes. Such technologies can reproduce and exacerbate existing patterns of discrimination, marginalization, social inequalities, stereotypes and bias — with unpredictable outcomes.
The only way to safeguard humanity from these weapons is by negotiating new international law. Such an agreement is feasible and achievable. More than 70 countries see an urgent need for “internationally agreed rules and limits” on autonomous weapons systems. This objective has strong support from scientists, faith leaders, military veterans, industry and Nobel Peace laureates.
On Oct. 6, Boston Dynamics and five other robotics companies pledged to not weaponize their advanced mobile robots or the software they develop — and called on the robotics community to follow suit.
There's now much greater understanding among governments of the essential elements of the legal framework needed to address this issue. There is strong recognition that a new international treaty should prohibit autonomous weapons systems that inherently lack meaningful human control or that target people. The treaty should also ensure that other weapons systems can never be used without meaningful human control.
The inability of the current discussion forum to progress to negotiations — due to opposition from some major military powers, such as Russa and the United States — shows its limitations. A new path is urgently needed to negotiate new law. The United States should realize that it is in its interest to participate in drafting new law on killer robots.
Without a dedicated international legal standard on killer robots, the world faces an increasingly uncertain and dangerous future.

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Three men found guilty of murdering 298 people in shooting down of MH17
by NOS, AFP, Reuters, agencies
17 Nov. 2022 (AFP, AP, Reuters)
A Dutch court has delivered its long-awaited verdict over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The plane was blown out of the sky in July 2014 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
The Dutch court on Thursday found three of the four main suspects in the MH17 trial guilty of murder for taking part in the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight. All three were sentenced to life in prison in absentia. The fourth suspect was acquitted.
Family members of people killed in the disaster gathered to hear the verdict at the high-security courtroom at Schiphol Airport where The Hague District Court sat.
The ruling is also taking place amid a tense geopolitical backdrop of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in nine-months of war and widespread human suffering.
None of the four suspects on trial were present for the proceedings, as they had not been arrested and were being tried in their absence. This means they are unlikely to serve any time in prison.
What did the court rule?
Two of the convicted are Russian, including Igor Girkin, the former "defense minister" of the self-declared "People's Republic of Donetsk." The 51-year-old is a former colonel in Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), and is reportedly involved in Russia's current war in Ukraine. The second Russian convicted was one of Girkin's subordinates, Major General Sergey Dubinsky.
The third person convicted is Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko, who allegedly led a pro-Russian rebel combat unit and took orders directly from Dubinsky.
Girkin, Dubinsky and Kharchenko were subsequently sentenced to life in prison. The men remain fugitives and are believed to be in Russia, which is unlikely to extradite them.
Girkin, Dubinskiy and Kharchenko, the three men who were found guilty, were said by the judge to have shown a “disrespectful and unnecessarily hurtful” attitude to the relatives by their comments on the legal process.
"Only the most severe punishment is fitting to retaliate for what the suspects have done, which has caused so much suffering to so many victims and so many surviving relatives," Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said.
All three have also been ordered to pay at least $16.5 million to the relatives of the victims.
The fourth suspect, Russian national Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted due to a lack of evidence.
In another significant development, the judges ruled that MH17 crashed due to being hit by a Russian-made missile that was fired from a field in eastern Ukraine. The ruling confirms the findings by international investigators. The judges further found that Russia had "control" over separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Piter Ploeg, spokesman for the families of the victims of the tragedy, told DW that "every 68 session days, we have waited eight years for the verdict. For me and everybody else, it is very important."
"The trial is important internationally because the world gets to know what the role of Russia was in the downing of MH17," he said. "It would be the best solution to have an international tribunal, but that was not possible. The Dutch government took the initiative," Ploeg said.
The victims came from 17 countries and included 198 Dutch nationals, 43 Malaysians, 38 Australians and 10 from the UK. They were from all walks of life: families with children, young couples, retirees, teenagers celebrating the end of exams, professionals heading to conferences. Eighty of the victims were children.
The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said: “This is yet another step in the pursuit of truth and justice for the victims and their loved ones. And important as this verdict is, it is not the final conclusion … It is not the end. All parties will have the right to appeal, so the judgment is not yet final. But to reiterate, an important step has been taken today.”
During the trial, relatives of the victims gave testimony to the court, in person and through video link, of their overwhelming grief and how their lives changed for ever when they found out their loved ones had been onboard MH17.
What happened to flight MH17?
On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 set off from Amsterdam en route to Kuala Lumpur. The Boeing 777 plane then crashed in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, amid a conflict between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces. All of the 298 people on board were killed.
An international team of investigators — the so-called Joint Investigation Team (JIT) — concluded that the aircraft was hit by an anti-aircraft missile of the Soviet-era "BUK" type.
The investigation team said the missile was launched from an area of Donbas controlled by pro-Russian rebels. The missile system had been transported to the area from Russia and was taken back over the border shortly after the disaster.
The Netherlands launched a trial in March 2020 according to its own national laws after efforts failed to launch an international tribunal to deal with the case. The majority of the victims, 193 altogether, came from the Netherlands.
Girkin, Dubinsky, Kharchenko and Pulatov were not accused of firing the missile themselves, but of working together to get the missile launcher to the field where it was fired.
Phone call intercepts were some of the key pieces of evidence examined in the case against the men. The calls suggested they believed they were targeting a Ukrainian fighter jet instead of a passenger plane.
All four have denied their guilt. Girkin, who at the time was one of the leading politicians in Donbas, remained in the public eye after withdrawing from the combat zone. In one interview, he said that he felt a "moral responsibility" for the death of the passengers.
None of the accused have been present for the proceedings. Prosecutors and suspects have two weeks to file an appeal against the Dutch ruling.
Mar. 2020
The trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian accused of murdering 298 people in the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine has begun in the Netherlands.
The presiding judge, Hendrik Steenhuis, said 'the loss of so many lives and the manner in which they so abruptly ended is barely conceivable' as he opened the case on Monday at the Schiphol judicial complex, close to the airport from where the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 took off for Kuala Lumpur on 17 July 2014.
The aircraft was shot down over the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine by a Buk anti-aircraft missile, killing everyone onboard. The victims came from 17 countries. Most of the 193 people were Dutch nationals, others were Malaysian, Australian, Indonesian and British.
"Especially for next of kin this will be a very painful and emotional period', Steenhuis said as he opened proceedings by describing how Dutch criminal law treats defendants and victims. Prosecutor Dedy Woei-A-Tsoi read the names of all those killed. It took nearly 20 minutes to name every victim.
Australian Federal Police Commander Jennifer Hurst said the moment was incredibly moving. "You could have almost heard a pin drop in that room. I think what was significant for us was the amount of time it took to read the names out. That gives a real indication of the significant and absolute atrocity that happened on that day," she said.
After a painstaking international investigation, Dutch prosecutors allege that four men had responsibility for the missile launch: the Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, and the Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. All were senior commanders fighting Ukrainian forces in the Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic.
Russia does not allow extradition of its citizens, and none of the men appeared in court on Monday. Pulatov has appointed two Dutch lawyers, who first presented to the court in January. 'They have had but a brief space of time to prepare for this hearing', Steenhuis said.
Nine lawyers have been hired to represent some of the victims and their families They also have the right to speak in court, alongside public prosecutors and the defence.
The trial, which will also include testimony from the family of the victims, is expected to last several months. Lawyers will pore over a case file that already stands at 36,000 pages, and many digital pieces of evidence. Forty-nine relatives have said they wish to address the court and 82 will give written statements on how the death of their loved ones has affected their lives. More may decide to give written or oral statements.
Liz Mayne has written a statement describing how the death of her son Richard, a 20-year student at Leeds University on his way to Australia, has completely broken her family.
Richard's father, Simon, said Monday's court session was the beginning of a process that could last 30 years. He said the political state of Russia a decade in the future was unknowable. 'It is important to establish the facts now. The trial will reveal the chain of command right back to the Kremlin. That may one day become important', he said.
Eighty-four relatives have exercised their right under Dutch law to seek compensation.
The prosecutor Ward Ferdinandusse said the four defendants had 'noted with delight' that a plane had been shot down. We do not think that these defendants pressed the button that launched the Buk missile', he said.
'However we do think that they played a significant coordinating role in the transportation and positioning of the Buk-Telar and its removal back to Russia, making them so closely involved that they can be held responsible under criminal law for the downing of flight MH17'.
Ferdinandusse said it was perfectly conceivable the men had intended to shoot down a Ukrainian military jet, but that did not exclude prosecution or entitle them to claim combat immunity because they were not regular military personnel. 'Whoever systematically violates humanitarian law cannot invoke it to their benefit in a criminal trial', he said.
Russia has always denied any involvement in the shooting down of the plane.
The Dutch-led joint investigation team (JIT) said in 2016 that it had found irrefutable evidence the Buk missile had been fired from a village under the control of pro-Russia rebels. The court is also expected to hear details of intercepted phone calls that reveal separatist leaders requesting help from senior Kremlin advisers shortly before MH17 was shot down.
The opening sessions will not get into these details, but will be devoted to what Steenhuis called 'mapping out the current state of play'.
In a statement before the opening session, the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, described the trial as 'an important milestone in the efforts to ensure justice for the 298 victims and their families'.
The EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, struck a similar tone, reflecting on a tragedy that caused the death of 298 innocent civilians and calling on Russia to cooperate fully with the investigation.

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