Scientists to aid United Nations investigation into the legality of drone technology

20 April, 2014


From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

Researchers are using new methods to aid investigations into deadly strikes by pilotless-planes called drones. The United Nations wants independent investigations into drone attacks.

They estimate that there were 3 times as many civilian death from drones last year as the year before. But it is difficult to know the effect on civilians, because the attacks are often in likely populated areas.

A recent investigation found that drone strikes in Pakistan killed 2,000 people during the 10-year period. The information was given to the United Nations.

Scientists from Goldsmiths, University of London and SITU Research in New York are trying to learn more. They have been gathering evidence to create 3-D moving images of drone attacks. They call this process Forensic Architecture.

Scientists to aid United Nations investigation into the legality of drone technology
3D model of a drone strike in Miranshah, Pakistan, 30 March 2012. Video still.

Susan Schuppli is the lead researcher from Goldsmiths. She says Forensic Architecture answers an important question in the debate over drones.

"What this drone warfare actually produce as a kind of lethality on the ground," said Schuppli.

Ms Schuppli and her team use satellite images of places before and after an attack. They also use reports from witnesses, local maps and other information. The goal is to help investigations into drone strikes that happened in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Gaza and Somalia. The scientist identified 37 drone strikes in those areas.

"The counts are certain perception that there is very little that we can know about these strikes are often take place in what we consider to be remote regions of the world," said Schuppli.

The research will be included in a United Nations report on the legality of drone operations.  Kat Craig is the legal director for the charity organization Reprieve. She says the United States and other drone users have offered little information about such operations.

"The entire drone program is shrouded in secrecy. There is no clarity or transparency about the targeting progress, about the decisions that they made. There is no transparency when mistakes are made, no accountability to that defect," said Craig.

Douglas Murray is the associated director of the Henry Jackson Society, a policy research group based in London. He says drones are the best choice of bad choices to try to deal with radicals and terrorists.

"If you are objecting to drone strikes, then you have to, to my mind, explain how else you deal with this problem of radicals and terrorists exists in these areas. I will send forces, or you do drones strikes, or you go to do something else. What is the something else?" said Murray.

The United Nations says US drone attacks on Pakistan appear to have decreased. None have been reported so far in 2014. But the UN says, drone strikes have increased in Yemen.

And that's the VOA Learning English Technology Report. For more technology stories, go to our website