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Cyber operations and the Second Geneva Convention

  • Jeffrey Biller

Abstract

The recently released updated ICRC Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention (GC II) recognizes significant changes in both the conduct of naval conflicts and interpretations of the governing law. One such significant change is the addition of cyber operations to the conduct of naval operations. Modern vessels increasingly utilize computer networks to control critical ship systems, but discussions of how potential cyber operations should be viewed under GC II are understandably limited. This article aids in addressing that gap by analyzing how cyber operations could have implications for certain provisions of GC II.

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1 This article builds upon a series of posts related to the subject that appeared in November 2017 on the website Opinio Juris.

2 Chris Baraniuk, “How Hackers Are Targeting the Shipping Industry”, BBC News, 18 August 2017, available at: www.bbc.com/news/technology-40685821 (all internet references were accessed in March 2019).

3 David Hambling, “Ships Fooled in GPS Spoofing Attack Suggest Russian Cyberweapon”, New Scientist, 10 August 2017, available at: www.newscientist.com/article/2143499-ships-fooled-in-gps-spoofing-attack-suggest-russian-cyberweapon/.

5 ICRC, Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention: Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, 2nd ed., 2017 (2017 Commentary on GC II), available at: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/full/GCII-commentary.

6 It should be noted that GCII does not apply to non-international armed conflicts (NIACs), despite the fact that non-State armed groups may possess significant naval and cyber capabilities. Although not the focus of this article, certain provisions of GC II may apply to NIACs through customary international law.

7 See, generally, United States Navy, Fleet Cyber Command Strategic Plan 2015–2020, available at: www.navy.mil/strategic/FCC-C10F%20Strategic%20Plan%202015-2020.pdf.

8 Office of Naval Research, United States Department of the Navy, “A New Defense for Navy Ships: Protection from Cyber Attacks”, Phys.org, 17 September 2015, available at: https://phys.org/news/2015-09-defense-navy-ships-cyber.html.

9 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, paras 275–278.

10 Ibid., paras 2389–2403.

11 Geneva Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 85 (entered into force 21 October 1950), Art. 34.

12 Glenn Hayes, “Manipulating AIS”, Marine Electronics Journal, 23 November 2015.

13 “Spoofing a Superyacht at Sea”, University of Texas News, 30 July 2013, available at: https://news.utexas.edu/2013/07/30/spoofing-a-superyacht-at-sea.

14 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1400.

15 Ibid., para. 1404.

16 Ibid., para. 1411.

17 For additional discussion of the meaning of the term “shipwrecked”, see Steven Haines, “Who is Shipwrecked?”, in Clapham, Andrew, Gaeta, Paola and Sassòli, Marco (eds), The 1949 Geneva Conventions: A Commentary, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015, pp. 767780.

18 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1379.

19 Ibid., para. 1383.

20 Pictet, Jean (ed.), Commentary to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Vol. 2: Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick, and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, ICRC, Geneva, 1960, pp. 8492.

21 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1384.

22 Ibid., para. 1385 (emphasis in original).

23 See above note 2 and accompanying text.

24 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1386.

25 Ibid., para. 1390.

26 See, generally, Lavery, Brian, Jack Aubrey Commands: An Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O'Brian, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2003.

27 Rolls-Royce, “Rolls-Royce Demonstrates World's First Remotely Operated Commercial Vessel”, press release, 20 June 2017, available at: www.rolls-royce.com/media/press-releases/yr-2017/20-06-2017-rr-demonstrates-worlds-first-remotely-operated-commercial-vessel.aspx.

28 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1575.

29 Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 135 (entered into force 21 October 1950), Art. 4.

30 Pictet, Jean (ed.), Commentary to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Vol. 3: Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, ICRC, Geneva, 1960, Art. 4.

31 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1568.

32 Ibid., para. 1571.

33 For a definition of persons hors de combat, see Henckaerts, Jean-Marie and Doswald-Beck, Louise (eds), Customary International Humanitarian Law, Vol. 1: Rules, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005, Rule 47.

34 HPCR, Commentary on the HPCR Manual on International Law Applicable to Air and Missile Warfare, 2010, comment accompanying Rule 15(b), para. 8.

35 Protocol Additional (I) to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 1125 UNTS 3, 8 June 1977 (entered into force 7 December 1978) (AP I).

36 Yves Sandoz, Christophe Swinarski and Bruno Zimmermann (eds), Commentary on the Additional Protocols, ICRC, Geneva, 1987, para. 1612.

37 ECtHR, Al-Skeini and Others v. United Kingdom, Appl. No. 55721/07, 2011, paras 133–140, available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-105606.

38 ECtHR, Medvedyev and Others v. France, Appl. No. 3394/03, 2010, paras 66–67, available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/app/conversion/pdf/?library=ECHR&id=001-97979.

39 ECtHR, Al-Skeini, above note 37, para. 136.

40 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1579.

41 Ibid., para. 1579.

42 Ibid., para. 1579.

43 For example, the prohibition on flying a false flag once the enemy is engaged, as presumably the crew aboard will not be changing the ensign. Doswald-Beck, Louise (ed.), San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, Rule 110.

44 GC III, Art. 12.

45 This article required, in part, that “[a]fter every engagement, the two belligerents, so far as military interests permit, shall take steps to look for the shipwrecked, sick, and wounded, and to protect them, as well as the dead, against pillage and ill-treatment”.

46 For an in-depth treatment of this particular engagement, see Forester, C.S., Hunting The Bismarck, Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, IL, 1983.

47 Peter Barker, “The Sea is Still Cruel – A Mariner's Perspective on Some Aspects of the Updated ICRC Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention”, Opinio Juris, 16 November 2017, available at: http://opiniojuris.org/2017/11/16/the-sea-is-still-cruel-a-mariners-perspective-on-some-aspects-of-the-updated-icrc-commentary-on-the-second-geneva-convention/.

48 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1617.

49 Article 15 of the First Geneva Convention requires that “[a]t all times, and particularly after an engagement, Parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures …”.

50 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1618.

51 Ibid., para. 1648.

52 Ibid., para. 1648.

53 Ibid., para. 1655.

54 Ibid., para. 1655.

55 Ibid., para. 277.

56 Ibid., para. 278.

57 For a general discussion of cyber operations and the scope of IHL applicability, see Schmitt, Michael N. (ed.), Tallinn Manual 2.0 on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2017 (Tallinn Manual 2.0), Rule 80.

58 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1655.

59 Specifically, Article 6 states that “the High Contracting Parties may conclude other special agreements for all matters concerning which they may deem it suitable to make separate provision”.

60 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1651.

61 Article 22 of GC II, for example, provides that hospital ships “may in no circumstances be attacked or captured, but shall at all times be respected and protected”.

62 See, e.g., a statement by the German government in the First World War that it would “no longer suffer any hospital ship in the English Channel or parts of the North Sea”: Oppenheim, Lassa and Roxburgh, Ronald Francis, International Law: A Treatise, Vol. 2: War and Neutrality, 3rd ed., Longmans, London, 1921, p. 287.

63 Colley, Rupert, World War Two: History in an Hour, London, Harper Collins, 2013.

64 GC II, Art. 22.

65 GC II, Art. 27.

66 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1985.

67 Tallinn Manual 2.0, above note 57, Rule 131.

68 See also Droege, Cordula, “Get Off My Cloud: Cyber Warfare, International Humanitarian Law, and the Protection of Civilians”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 94, No. 886, 2012, pp. 556560.

69 AP I, Art. 49.

70 Tallinn Manual 2.0, above note 57, comment accompanying Rule 92, para. 10.

71 2017 Commentary on GC II, above note 5, para. 1996.

72 Ibid., para. 2276.

73 Ibid., para. 2277.

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