The International Committee of the Red Cross: New rules protecting from consequences of cyberattacks may be needed

The ICRC emphasised the urgent need for deeper discussions on the application of international humanitarian law to the use of ICTs in armed conflict, underscoring the importance of upholding humanitarian principles amidst evolving means of warfare.

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In a recent session of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the security of and in the use of information and communications technologies (ICT), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivered a statement highlighting critical concerns regarding the impact of ICT activities in situations of armed conflict.

Tilman Rodenhauser, Legal Advisor representing the ICRC, emphasised the importance of deepening discussions on the limits imposed by international law, particularly international humanitarian law (IHL), on the use of ICTs during armed conflict. He commended the progress made thus far by the working group but stressed the need for further convergence on this crucial issue.

The ICRC underscored that while recalling international humanitarian law in the ICT environment does not legitimise or encourage armed conflicts, it provides essential limits that must be respected, irrespective of whether the UN Charter has been violated. With over 120 armed conflicts worldwide, it is imperative to uphold the humanitarian consensus that wars have limits, especially in the face of evolving means and methods of warfare.

The statement highlighted the growing number of states expressing their views on the application of IHL to the use of ICTs, citing the cross-regional statement by Senegal and Colombia and the ‘Common African Position’ as examples of building common understanding. The ICRC encouraged the working group to incorporate clear language on IHL in the progress report due in July.

While progress has been made, the ICRC also emphasised the need for further discussion on unique features of ICTs, particularly regarding how IHL limits cyber operations. The ICRC cautioned against interpretations of IHL that focus solely on physical damage in the ICT environment, stressing the importance of addressing new kinds of harm resulting from the use of ICTs during armed conflict.

In conclusion, the ICRC urged the working group to strike the right balance between the principles of military necessity and humanity and to develop additional rules, if necessary, to strengthen the existing legal framework in light of the digitalisation of armed conflicts.

The statement by the ICRC underscores the importance of addressing the complex challenges posed by ICTs in armed conflict and the urgent need for international cooperation to ensure the protection of civilian populations and uphold humanitarian principles.