Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Session A2 3: Advantages and Risks of Digital Technologies
Tuesday, 20/July/2021:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Rosa Ana Alija, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain
Location: Room 3


The use of geospatial technologies in Myanmar to document genocide

Elisenda Calvet Martinez

Universitat de Barcelona, Spain

In the last two decades, the purposes and potential of geospatial technologies have significantly increased, moving from the sphere of governments to smaller users, such as human rights and humanitarian organizations. In the past, satellite imagery was used for scientific purposes, to target enemy facilities, manage environments and monitor land-use change, however, today the different uses include evidence for prosecution in international criminal tribunal trials, humanitarian relief and human rights activism.

In Myanmar, more than 730,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since the military campaign of ethnic cleansing began in August 2017. The government rejected broad evidence of human rights violations, denied independent investigators to access to Rakhine State, and sanctioned local journalists for reporting on military abuses. In Myanmar, the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) has relied on satellite imagery to collect information about the atrocities committed against the Rohingya. The findings of the FFM based on satellite imagery have been used to support in 2019 the opening of an investigation by the International Criminal Court on the situation of Bangladesh/Myanmar. Furthermore, in 2019 Gambia requested to the International Court of Justice the application for provisional measures to Myanmar to prevent genocide against Rohingya and the application was partially based on the satellite imagery information provided by the FFM.

In the context of Myanmar, a diversity of non-state actors is using geospatial imagery to document the ongoing destruction and burning of villages, clearance operations and new constructions in the Rakhine State. The aim of this contribution is to study these efforts to collect, preserve and analyze evidence of international crimes such as genocide committed in Myanmar, and explore to what extent these “satellite forensics” are currently supporting international legal proceedings to determine individual and state responsibility for genocide against the Rohingya community.

Humanitarian technologies and ‘cyber-humanitarian interventions’

Rhiannon Neilsen

University of New South Wales, Australia

This paper critically examines the role of humanitarian technologies – such as satellite imagery, mobile ‘apps’, and crowd-source mapping – in the context of atrocity crimes in the 21st century. In particular, it highlights two core limitations of the ways in which these existing technologies are used for human protection purposes. The first limitation is that these current uses of new technologies for atrocity prevention are overwhelmingly passive. That is, humanitarian technologies are being used almost exclusively for the identification, observation, verification, and documentation of atrocities for (ideally) prosecution and transitional justice. The second limitation is that these uses of new technologies are ultimately designed to 'help vulnerable populations help themselves'. In other words, much of these new technologies rely on the vulnerable populations, in extreme conditions, being aware of, having access to, and then using - at their own risk - such technologies. Whilst not dismissing the importance of existing humanitarian technologies, this paper gives thought to how more proactive uses of cyber-capabilities might be used to protect populations from atrocity crimes in 2020 and beyond. As such, this paper introduces a series of 'cyber-humanitarian interventions' that aim to disrupt potential perpetrators' means and motivations for perpetrating genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.


Narek Poghosyan

Comparative genocide department of the Armenian Genocide Museum-institute, Armenia

The accelerating pace of technological development in recent years, in particular the use of artificial intelligence (AI) has raised serious concerns among experts that it, along with its advantages, can pose many dangers to mankind when machines think and make decisions for them. Particularly risky is that the development of AI and autonomous weapons can be used to target certain national, religious and racial groups, thereby increasing the risk of genocide and mass killings. In the present day, when the global arms race using AI is a reality, many technologists are turning their attention to banning lethal autonomous weapons. In addition, in order to prevent the potential negative consequences of AI development, industry professionals have suggested the need to develop an AI code of ethics. The creation of appropriate legislative mechanisms based on ethics and the protection of human rights has already become an urgent matter for mankind to prevent the possible risks posed by the development of robotics and artificial intelligence technology. Since artificial intelligence is used to detect and prevent various types of crime, it is therefore necessary to use the opportunities provided by it to prevent genocide and mass murder.