Of autonomous robots and other non-obvious IHL violations


3rd All-European International Humanitarian and Refugee Law Moot Court in Ljubljana in the light of new technologies:

In times of Artificial Intelligence, Moot Court competitions increasingly seem to engage in implementing topical issues of current importance. As an undeniable matter of fact, our world and its legal systems are driven by complex technological advancements. Thus, developing awareness and knowledge of those improvements within the legal community is a task utterly necessary in order to confront specific legal challenges arising from those technology-related issues. In order to achieve this goal, the University of Ljubljana recently organized its third All-European International Humanitarian Law and Refugee Law Moot Court end of November 2018 and hosted a team of the University of Vienna Law School (Juridicum) for the first time.

Frankly, one does not immediately think of modern technology and IHL (the “ius in bello”) at first sight. The reasons for that are numerous: International Law and its sub-parts are frequently taught from hindsight, focusing on situations happening in the past, where ships crashed into one another or tanks fought against uprising combattants. Yet, the technology of war is evolving and ever changing, so is the law of armed conflict. Here, the IHL Moot Court in Ljubljana did a great job in providing all participants with deep-diving insights into the current state of the legal evolution. Specifically, Ljubljana and its co- hosts, the ICRC and UNHRC, did not only offer an enriching academic environment for students interested in technology law, but also for those seeking to improve their legal knowledge of International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law.

Participating in a Moot Court focusing on both, new technologies causing issues of IHL and IRL, is certainly one of those things any law student might benefit enormously from when studying for International Law. The case study and the competition itself were far from usual: At one time the Viennese team had to represent a Head of State deciding to develop lethal autonomous weapons, at another it tried to convince weapon dealers of its decision to solely buy laser weapons in compliance with IHL. Finally, Vienna had to defend a State’s relocation agreements, drawing a distinct line to real-world politics. Those tasks did not only constitute a humorous learning environment, but also shaded a different light on the whole spectrum of algorithms and their engineers.

Mag.a Laura Winninger, Andreas Wabro and their advisor Mag.a Julia Kienast enjoyed the possibility to participate in a competition concentrating on this broad range of legal issues. “Gaining insights into this emerging field of the law has been a thriving opportunity for me to deepen my knowledge of IHL and especially International Refugee Law,” says Andreas Wabro, student at the Juridicum in his last part of the curriculum. “Especially when considering both aspects, warfare and its consequences on the general population, one cannot help but think of the agreements the European Union has lately signed with other third-party states: Schemes of pushing-back and relocating refugees, likely violating International Refugee Law.” Mag.a Laura Winninger, PhD student and research assistant at the University of Vienna Law School’s department of public law likewise assessed her thoughts upon the given tasks. “Arguing and defending highly controversial positions – sometimes opposing our personal convictions – did not only train our argumentative flexibility, but also our capacity to focus on facts rather than emotions. In this day and age, these are skills of primary importance every law student should acquire.” Ljubljana’s primary target – spreading knowledge of both legal fields, enforced by a penal of renowned lawyers of the academic and public international sector – has certainly been fulfilled.

As lethal autonomous weapon systems or DDoS cyber-attacks reshape warfare, our world and its legal systems are asked to respond to those developments. Educating lawyers in those fields might be a beneficial and fruitful way to prevent unnecessary suffering among civilians and combattants in future armed conflicts.

The quarter-finalists Mag.a Laura Winninger and Andreas Wabro
The quarter-finalists Mag.a Laura Winninger and Andreas Wabro, accompanied by their advisor Mag.a Julia Kienast