Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’

Tech leaders warn against ‘Pandora’s box’ of robotic weapons — Elon Musk is leading demands for a global ban on killer robots

August 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Elon Musk is leading demands for a global ban on killer robots, warning technological advances could revolutionise warfare and create new “weapons of terror” that target innocent victims.
SYDNEY (AFP) – Elon Musk is leading demands for a global ban on killer robots, warning technological advances could revolutionise warfare and create new “weapons of terror” that target innocent people.The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX joined more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence entrepreneurs in signing a letter to the United Nations calling for action to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” warned the statement signed by 116 tech luminaries, also including Mustafa Suleyman, cofounder of Google’s DeepMind.

“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter read.

The innovators also highlighted the danger that the technology could fall into the wrong hands.

“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways,” the letter read.

“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

Both Musk and British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking have regularly warned of the dangers of artificial intelligence.

The renewed plea on autonomous weapons was released as the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne got underway Monday, with a record 2,000 of the world’s top AI and robotics experts taking part, organisers said.

One expert said autonomous weapons could make war more likely.

“Today the potential loss of human life is a deterrent for conflict initiation and escalation, but when the main casualties are robots, the disincentives change dramatically and the likelihood of conflict increases,” Professor Mary-Anne Williams of the University of Technology Sydney.

She warned a killer robot ban may be disregarded by some nations but would stop “countries such as Australia from developing defensive killer robots, thereby being vulnerable to other countries and groups that ignore the ban”.

Another expert said decision made today would help shape the “futures we want”.

“Nearly every technology can be used for good and bad, and artificial intelligence is no different,” said Professor Toby Walsh of the University of New South Wales.

Organisers said the conference, which concludes on Friday, has attracted a record number of participants from China, reflecting a push by Beijing to become a leading player in the field.

A key focus of the event will be looking at the challenges of developing fully autonomous AI systems, programme chair Carles Sierra of the Spanish National Research Council said.

A UN group on autonomous weapons had been due to meet Monday but the gathering was postponed until November, according to the group’s website.

In 2015, thousands of researchers and personalities launched an appeal to ban autonomous weapons.

© 2017 AFP

Afghanistan massacre may have been a war crime

August 20, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Afghan officials claim that Taliban and IS fighters killed dozens in a rare joint operation between the two insurgent groups
KABUL (AFP) – A United Nations investigation published Sunday confirmed that Taliban and self-proclaimed Islamic State insurgents jointly massacred dozens of people in Afghanistan earlier this month in an attack that “may amount to a war crime”.

The body’s mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it had “verified allegations” of at least 36 deaths in the predominantly Shiite village of Mirzawalang in Sayad district of northern Sar-e Pul province.

“These killings, corroborated by multiple credible sources, constitute violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes,” UNAMA said in its report.

It added that more than half of the killings took place on Saturday 5 August when civilians tried to flee the village after militants had captured it following a battle with a government-backed militia.

Afghan officials claim that Taliban and IS fighters killed more than 50 villagers, including by beheadings, in a rare joint operation between the two insurgent groups.

The UN investigation said that as many as 27 civilians were killed, including one woman, four teenage boys and 13 men over the age of 60.

Also among the dead were at least seven pro-government militia fighters, one local policeman, and an Afghan army soldier, it added.

It was unable to confirm the beheading claims.

The UN investigation noted that a commander implicated in the raid had claimed allegiance to IS but concluded it was “not aware of any information supporting his links” to the wider IS group.

Taliban and IS fighters have regularly clashed in Afghanistan over the past two years but allegiances are occasionally fluid and security sources say they have teamed up in the past to strike Afghan forces in certain areas.

The Taliban had earlier confirmed capturing Mirzawalang but said it did so alone. It has also denied allegations it had killed civilians.

Last week, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for killing 54 Shiites in Sar-e Pul in a statement released by its propaganda outlet Amaq.

East Libya Elite Force of Khalifa Haftar Refuses International Criminal Court Order To Arrest Mahmoud al-Werfalli For Possible War Crimes

August 16, 2017

BENGHAZI, Libya — An elite forces unit linked to the army that controls much of eastern Libya has snubbed international efforts to bring to justice one of its senior officers for allegedly executing dozens of prisoners.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday for Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a commander in the Special Forces of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).

Image result for Mahmoud al-Werfalli, photos

Mahmoud al-Werfalli

The accusations against him relate to incidents in and near Benghazi in spring and early summer, towards the end of a three-year LNA campaign against Islamists and other opponents in Libya’s second city.

Videos circulated on social media appear to show Werfalli executing or overseeing the execution of masked and handcuffed prisoners

“The Special Forces strongly reject the arrest warrant,” spokesman Milad Al-Zwai said.

Zwai said the ICC should instead focus on arresting “those who killed and displaced men, women and children, and the people who meted out torture and killing and destruction.”

“We will continue our struggle against this oppressive faction,” he said without further explanation. His statement mentioned neither the videos nor the accusations against Werfalli.

In May, Werfalli announced his resignation from the Special Forces, but this was rejected by the unit’s top commander. The following month a U.N. panel of experts reported he was involved in running secret detention centers outside Benghazi.

The LNA has previously said it would investigate war crimes allegations in eastern Libya, where it is the main military force.

The Special Forces is an elite unit nominally under LNA control that joined the Benghazi campaign in its early stages.

Since announcing victory in the campaign in July, the LNA has extended its presence in the center and south of the divided country as it has vied for control with forces linked to the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and other rivals.

GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and Haftar last month committed to a conditional ceasefire and to work towards holding elections next spring in talks brokered by France.

Several previous attempts at peace deals have been scuttled by internal divisions between the myriad of competing armed groups that have emerged in oil-producing Libya since rebels toppled strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In July, the United Nations said it was deeply concerned that people detained by the LNA might be at risk of torture or summary execution.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said she “will not hesitate to bring new cases” in Libya, where evidence dictates.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ahmed Elumami, additional reporting and editing by Aidan Lewis; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Fears for 600 still missing in Sierra Leone floods — 3,000 people left homeless

August 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Saidu Bah | The government of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has promised relief to more than 3,000 people left homeless

FREETOWN (AFP) – Concern shifted Wednesday to the estimated 600 people still missing and thousands made homeless in Sierra Leone by deadly floods in the capital, as aid groups scrambled to coordinate a response.The United Nations said Tuesday it was evaluating humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone, while the first Israeli aid packages were sent and Britain pledged its support.

With morgues overwhelmed with bodies, burials began on Tuesday for some of the bodies too mutilated to identify.

President Ernest Bai Koroma fought back tears on Tuesday as he visited the devastated hilltop community of Regent, saying the scale of the challenge ahead was “overwhelming us”.

“Entire communities have been wiped out,” Koroma said. “We need urgent support now.”

The government of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has promised relief to more than 3,000 people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and registration centres to count those left on the streets.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York the UN country team was “supporting national authorities in rescue operations, helping evacuate residents, providing medical assistance to the injured, registering survivors, and providing food rations, water and dignity kits to those affected.”

The Red Cross says 600 people are still missing, while more than 300 are already confirmed dead.

– From shock to anger –

Adele Fox, national health coordinator for Sierra Leone for the charity Concern Worldwide, told AFP that the search for bodies continued but the survivors were facing difficult conditions.

“There is basic need for food, water, sanitation equipment and medical assistance. Since it is still rainy season, further flooding is also a possibility,” she warned.

The sentiment among those in the disaster areas had shifted from shock and grief to anger at what is an annual problem in Freetown, though never before on this scale.

“There is some frustration over the regularity of flooding and destruction during the rainy season and its effects,” she said.

– ‘Wake-up call’ –

Society 4 Climate Change Communication (S4CCC), a local environment group, has called the tragedy a “wake-up call”.

Deforestation, a lack of urban planning and vulnerability to climate change had all played a part, it said.

The UN said contingency plans were being put into place in case of any potential outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea, as dirty water stagnates.

Sulaiman Zaino Parker, an official with Freetown’s city council, said 150 burials took place on Tuesday evening and that many would be laid to rest in graves alongside victims of the country’s last humanitarian disaster, the Ebola crisis, in nearby Waterloo.

“We have started burying some of the mutilated and decomposed bodies. All the corpses will be given a dignified burial with Muslim and Christian prayers,” Parker said.

The graves would be specially marked for future identification, he added.

Three days of torrential rain culminated on Monday in the Regent mudslide and massive flooding elsewhere in the city, one of the world’s wettest urban areas.

Freetown is hit each year by flooding during several months of rain, and in 2015 bad weather killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.

Sierra Leone ranked 179th out of 188 countries on the UN Development Programme’s 2016 Human Development Index, a basket of data combining life expectancy, education and income and other factors.

by Saidu Bah

Kenyan police raid offices of pro-democracy organisation

August 16, 2017

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan police and tax authorities on Wednesday raided the office of a pro-democracy organisation that has raised questions over preparations for last week’s disputed elections.

“They are outside the gates right now,” Gladwell Otieno, the executive director of Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG), told Reuters by phone.

Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses and text

Gladwell Otieno, the executive director of Africa Centre for Open Governance

Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta won the Aug. 8 election by a margin of 1.4 million votes. International and domestic observers say the election process was largely free and fair but opposition leader Raila Odinga has disputed the results.

Kenyan television showed pictures of the raid during which civil society leaders challenged the search warrant. Human rights lawyer Maina Kiai asked why tax authorities had to bring three vanloads of police.

“They say they have got a search warrant … (but) the search warrant does not name AfriCOG. The order does not specify what they are coming to do,” he said on television.

The raid follows letters from the government on Tuesday accusing AfriCOG and another civil society organisation, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), of administrative and tax violations.

The threats to shut the organisations, which played a leading role in organising civil society to question and monitor the elections, provoked condemnation from the United Nations and international rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

International Criminal Court (ICC) Issues Arrest Warrant for a Libyan National Army (LNA) Commander Charged With Executing Captives

August 15, 2017

THE HAGUE — Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for a Libyan National Army (LNA)commander accused over the alleged execution of dozens of prisoners.

Prosecutors at the world’s permanent war crimes court are seeking Mahmoud al-Werfalli’s hand-over to face charges of murder during the armed conflict in Libya.

Image result for Mahmoud al-Werfalli, photos

Mahmoud al-Werfalli

According to the ICC, Werfalli “is alleged to have directly committed and to have ordered the commission of murder as a war crime” during seven incidents, involving 33 persons in June and July 2017 in and near Benghazi.

The LNA, which controls the eastern part of Libya, has been pushing to expand its presence in the central and southern part of the country where it has been vying for control with forces linked to the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli and other groups.

The United Nations called for the LNA to suspend Werfalli after a video in March allegedly showed Werfalli shooting dead three men who were kneeling and facing a wall with their hands tied behind their backs.

The LNA said it would investigate any potential war crimes but has not released any details of such a probe.

In June, two further videos appeared to show summary executions carried out by LNA fighters on his orders.

The ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes in Libya after a referral by the United Nations Security Council in 2011 and has been investigating alleged atrocities there.

Eighteen blindfolded prisoners in Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuits line up to face their deaths

Eighteen blindfolded prisoners in Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuits line up to face their deaths

(Reporting By Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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China Issues Order to Implement U.N. Sanctions on North Korea

August 14, 2017

BEIJING — China’s Commerce Ministry issued on Monday an order banning imports of coal, iron ore, lead concentrates and ore, lead and sea food from North Korea, effective from Tuesday, as Beijing moved to implement United Nations sanctions announced earlier this month.

The UN sanctions must be implemented 30 days after the resolution was approved in a vote on Aug. 6.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

“Without justice in Syria, there will never be peace and thus no future.”

August 13, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Del Ponte made the shock announcement earlier this month that she would resign from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria

GENEVA (AFP) – A UN commission probing Syria rights abuses has gathered enough evidence to convict President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes, an outgoing member of the commission said in interviews published Sunday.

Veteran former war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who is preparing to step down after five years serving in the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told Swiss media the evidence against Assad was sufficient to secure a war crimes conviction.

“I am convinced of that,” she told Le Matin Dimanche and the Sonntagszeitung weeklies, adding though that with no international court or prosecutor tasked with trying the Syria war crimes cases, justice would remain elusive.

“That is why the situation is so frustrating. The preparatory work has been done, but nevertheless, there is no prosecutor and no court,” she told Sonntagszeitung.

“It’s a tragedy.”

Del Ponte, a 70-year-old Swiss national who came to prominence investigating war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, made the shock announcement earlier this month that she would resign from the UN commission because it “does absolutely nothing”.

She lamented that “everyone in Syria is on the bad side. The Assad government has perpetrated horrible crimes against humanity and used chemical weapons. And the opposition is now made up of extremists and terrorists.”

In Sunday’s interviews, she said she had handed in her resignation letter last Thursday, and that she would officially step down on September 18, after the commission presents its latest report to the UN Human Rights Council.

UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed last week for the commission to continue its work despite Del Ponte’s departure.

– Resigning to provoke action –

The commission has been tasked with investigating human rights violations and war crimes in Syria since shortly after the conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government protests that have evolved into a complex proxy war.

The continued violence has left more than 330,000 people dead and displaced millions.

The commission, which once Del Ponte leaves will count just two members, has repeatedly urged the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, in vain.

“I do not want to be an alibi for an international community that is doing nothing at all,” Del Ponte told Le Matin Dimanche, explaining her decision to leave the UN commission.

“My resignation is also meant as a provocation,” she said, adding that she hoped it would “put pressure on the Security Council, which must deliver justice to the victims.”

Del Ponte however said that if an international judicial process is eventually established for Syria, “I am ready to take on the position of international prosecutor.”

She stressed that international justice was vital for Syria, where the crimes committed were “far worse” than what she had seen in the former Yugoslavia.

“Without justice in Syria, there will never be peace and thus no future,” she said.

U.N. Relations With Nigeria ‘Intact’ After Dispute Over Army Raid

August 12, 2017

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — The United Nations’ relationship with Nigeria is intact, a U.N. official said on Saturday, despite a military raid on a compound belonging to the international body in the conflict-ridden northeast.

“I am very pleased to report that our relationship of collaboration and trust is intact,” Peter Lundberg, the U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria, said at a briefing in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.

Friday’s raid had threatened to undermine an already-rocky relationship between Nigeria’s military and the United Nations and other aid organizations.

The army said it was a search for members of Islamist insurgency Boko Haram in Maiduguri, the epicenter of the fight against the militants, in an area of the city that included the U.N. compound.

The army and United Nations still disagree over whether the compound was registered and designated as belonging to the U.N.

A worsening of relations between the U.N. and Nigeria could risk destabilizing efforts to deliver aid to almost seven million people affected by the eight-year conflict with Boko Haram, one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.

The United Nations on Friday had halted various operations around the northeast, but following reassurances from Nigeria those resumed on Saturday, said Lundberg.

“We are here in support of the government of Nigeria, the United Nations agencies and over 60 non-government organizations,” said Lundberg.

In a separate statement, Ibrahim Attahiru, a commander of Nigeria’s operations against Boko Haram, said the army was not trying to block the United Nations’ activities.

“We will continue to collaborate with the United Nations humanitarian agencies to achieve the goals of the counter-insurgency campaign and other developments to address the humanitarian crisis in the northeast region,” he said.

(Reporting by Ahmed Kingimi in Maiduguri; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Andrew Bolton)