Skip to main content

Mark Hanis '05 and Andrew Sniderman '07 Push for Humanitarian Use of Drones

Mark Hanis '05 and Andrew Sniderman '07
Push for Humanitarian Use of Drones

by Maki Somosot '12

Andrew Sniderman '07
Andrew Sniderman '07

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Mark Hanis '05 and Andrew Sniderman '07 urge human rights groups to consider using military drones for humanitarian surveillance purposes. The pair, co-founders of the Genocide Intervention Network, argue that drones can monitor and record the atrocities happening on the ground, in high-definition and real-time, in conflict-ridden places such as Syria.

"As with all forms of bearing witness—human rights monitors, tweets, video from phones camera or drones, etc.—we must know what is happening on the ground in order to effectively protect civilians," Hanis says. "If we can't get the diagnosis right, we can't get the right treatment."

Mark Hanis '05
Mark Hanis '05

Hanis and Sniderman envision this material evidence being broadcast before a global audience that would include key geopolitical decision-makers such as United Nations diplomats and International Criminal Court prosecutors. According to them, the need to publicize human rights violations in their full uncensored extent becomes "even more urgent" in Syria, especially in view of the Arab League's recent retraction there.

"Drones could even go to some places the observers, who were escorted and restricted by the government, could not see," they add. In addition, drones would help keep count of Syrian protestors and civilians who are currently being subjected to violence or killed by government police.

High-resolution drone footage presents a superior alternative to grainy cell-phone footage, on which Syrian human rights watchdogs currently depend for recording civilian violence. Drones have previously been used by human-rights groups to monitor a range of conflict issues.

"Our inspiration was an article about an environmental rights NGO using drones to monitor illegal whaling activity in the Southern Hemisphere," Sniderman says. "We realized that it was possible for NGOs to do this. The goal is to get a serious conversation about the issue. The only question is when and how human rights groups can make use of this technology."

Although drone installation would violate international security laws, Hanis and Sniderman argue that the same violations apply when governments provide military and financial support to opposition groups, such as NATO backing in Libya.

"If human rights organizations can spy on evil," they conclude, "they should."