Drone operators - legal responsibility

Author:Andrei-alexandru Stoica
Position:Ph.D. Candidate, Faculty of Law, University Nicolae Titulescu (e-mail: stoica.andrei.alexandru@gmail.com).
Andrei-Alexandru STOICA*
Drones or unmanned or r emote vehicles represent a new gener ation of devices that
were designed to help mankind achieve better results in ar eas that were proven to hazardous.
By developing drones, new areas of economic activities h ave been unlocked for better
exploitation, but at the sa me time, the lack of a proper legal system to back-up the new
technology allowed a new wave of gr ay-lined uses of dr ones that must be tackled. As the
Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institute
explains in a n
interview in 2012 that “ a revolutionary technology is a game-changing technology on a
historic level. It is technology like gunpowder, or the steam engine, or the atomic bomb”.
With th is in mind, drones mark the revolution to carr y out strikes from thousands of
kilometers away, while also ensu ring a per manent eye in the sky for both military a nd also
law enforcement opera tions. The aforementioned facts a re just small percenta ges of what a
drone is truly capa ble of and its full potential will only be unlocked once ar tificial
intelligence will become an integral pa rt of robotics.
Keywords: drones, opera tors, Internationa l Criminal Court, strike, man-in-the-loop.
1. Introduction
Until the d evelopment of autonomous
or intelligent weapons reaches a new
milestone, the concept of man- in-the-loop
that is a human being doing the decision-
making authority and not the robot. A typical
drone, or for a better illustration a Reap er
drone used b y the United States o f
America’s Military, requires at least one
pilot and a team comprised of flight-
coordinators, intelligence gathering teams
on the ground, military and civilian analysts
and commanders, each, being in most cases,
* Ph.D. Candidate, Faculty of Law, University Nicolae Titulescu (e-mail: stoica.andrei.alexandru@gmail.com).
Interview with Peter W. Singer, Director of the 21 st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution,
Washington, United States of America, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 94, Number 886, Summer 2012.
Dan Saxon, International Humanitarian Law and the Changing Technology of War, Martinus Nijhoff
Publishers, Leiden, 2013, p. 71.
R. Johnson, US Civilians are now helping decide who to kill with military drones, Bussiness Insider, 30
December 2011.
located in different bases around the world
and trying to process information in real
time. The U.S. Air Force admitted in 2011
that for just one Predator drone to be
operational for 24 hours, they required 168
people in different key areas in the
continental United States
. This ma y have
changed since then do to more technological
advancements, but the fact remains, current
drone op erations require a large amount of
manpower and current trends show that this
type of work environment is very demanding
on the human psyche so drone operators are
112 Lex ET Scientia International Journal
leaving in scores
. Drone operators, such as
Brandon Bryant
, spoke to the media about
the difficulties of being a military drone pilot
and the ps ychological impact it had on him
when he wa s doing targeted killings from
thousands of kilometers away.
This type of public outcry caused the
policy makers to shift from the man-in-the-
loop to a new policy, the man-on-the-loop
a situation where the drone uses an
algorithm to function independently up to
the point of acquiring a target and take a
preliminary decision on how to act. The
human pilot and the team behind him still
have the final decision regarding t he action
that the drone must take and also, with this
type of system, the human team can monitor
more than one drone.
The p aper will focus on defining and
acknowledging that drone operators are
viable military targets and can be prosecuted
for their actions under international law,
while also showcasing how drone operators
are more frecvent from private companies
rather than be under a governmental agency.
The importantance of the paper is marked by
the fact it will entertain an explanation on
how recent trends in the area of unmanned
vehicles have evolved, while also trying to
speculate on whether the push for more
control over drone missions can be achieved
or if still lacks legal guidelines. In doing so,
the study will be undergone by analyzing
real cases and understanding the milestones
that drone technology achieved in the last
ten years. Unfortunately, since the ar ea of
military drone operations is only recently
being made public, the level of infor mation
that can be made public or used without
backlash for using sensitive infor mation is
Murtaza Hussain, Former Drone Operators say they were “horrified” by cruelty of assassination program,
theintercept.com, 19 November 2015.
Helen Pow, Did we just kill a kid?, Dailymail.co.uk, 17 December 2012.
A Shalal-Esa, Future drone pilots may fly four warplanes at once, Reuters, 24 December 2011.
Adopted on 17th of July 1998 and entered into force on 1st of July 2002. As of 2016, 124 states are party to the
Rome Statute according to the untreatycollection website (treaties.un.org).
United Nations, 9th December 1948.
still restricted to reports by different
organizations or public figures
2. Drone operators as subjects of the
Rome Statute
2.1. Drone operators and the
international crime of genocide
The classic theory of cr iminal
responsibility that the Ro me Statute and the
International Criminal Court Elements of
Crimes, as adopted by the General Assembly
of the Member States to the Rome Statute
enshrines the necessity to have bo th an
international liability but also a criminal law
oriented one. But, while having a clear legal
framework for the traditional organized
military and armed groups, applying the
Rome Statute and other international
criminal law tools in the context of drone
warfare could prove to be more difficult as
technology evolves.
The crime of genocide is defined by
the Conventio n on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
as “In
the present Convention, genocide means any
of the following acts committed with intent
to destroy, in whole or in part, a national,
ethnical, racial or religious group, as such :
a) Killin g members of the group; (b)
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to
members of the group; (c) Deliberatel y
inflicting on the group conditions of life
calculated to bring about its physical
destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing
measures intended to prevent births within
the group; (e) Forcib ly transferring childr en
of the group to another group.”. While this
definition is a general statement that the

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