The use of ICT in armed conflicts carries a real risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure – World

ICRC Statement on International Law at the Third Session of the Open Working Group on Security of and Use of Information and Communication Technologies 2021-2025.

Ambassador Gafoor, Excellencies, dear colleagues,

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is grateful for the opportunity to participate in this third Open-Ended Working Group meeting. We would like to offer you our main concerns and viewpoints for consideration in finalizing the International Law section of the Annual Progress Report.

In her opening speech at the second main meeting of this working group, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs reminded us of the great importance of this working group, “not despite the currently challenging international security environment, but precisely because of it. ” The ICRC agrees with this assessment. Today, all states recognize that “the use of ICTs in future conflicts between states becomes more likely”. We share this concern and we would like to add that the use of ICTs in armed conflicts – indeed – has been a reality for several years, posing a real risk of harm to civilians, civilian infrastructure and society.

Given this reality, we cannot overemphasize the need for dedicated discussions on international law issues, as recommended in the Presidency’s draft progress report, particularly on international humanitarian law. Focused, non-politicized and inclusive exchanges can provide a forum for states to further explore how and when International humanitarian law applies – and therefore limits – the use of ICT during armed conflict. Far from legitimizing or promoting conflict, such discussions address very real humanitarian concerns.

In several recent armed conflicts, cyber operations have been carried out in addition to conventional, physical warfare. There is no doubt that these operations are governed by the longstanding rules and principles of international humanitarian law. Cyberspace is not a lawless space. However, States need to provide further clarity as to whether current interpretations of international humanitarian law provide adequate protection for civilians in the context of military cyber operations or whether there are gaps in common understanding.

In our view, it would be very worrying if views prevailed that held it legitimate to use cyber operations to cripple civilian infrastructure and civilian government agencies. States should not accept claims that civil data could be corrupted or destroyed because it now exists in digital rather than physical form.

Many states have raised concerns about disinformation. While information operations in warfare are nothing new, the use of ICT to incite physical violence or cyber operations against civilians is unlawful.

As more and more individuals, private actors and state proxies participate in armed conflict, it is important to reaffirm that they too must not target civilian infrastructure and that states are responsible for all actors who are under the direction, direction or the operate under the control of a state.

Discussions on the established international legal principles of distinction, proportionality, necessity and humanity are an important starting point. However, these principles reflect only a small part of international humanitarian law. IHL contains, among other things, important rules for essential for protecting medical facilities and securing humanitarian aid measures. Medical and humanitarian actors must be respected and protected, offline and online.

As an observer on this permanent working group and as a humanitarian organization with a mandate to “work towards the understanding and dissemination of knowledge of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts,” we stand available to States and the Chairmanship to provide some assistance to them support that are consensual. Specifically and in relation to the draft progress report, we are available for thematic discussions on international humanitarian law in order to find a common understanding.

We will continue to support exchanges between States and capacity-building on international humanitarian law, for example through consultations and training in different regions of the world. We are particularly grateful to Estonia and Mexico for collaborating with us on this work thus far.1

Many Thanks.

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