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Noted by the 131st IPU Assembly
(Geneva, 16 October 2014)

The Standing Committee on Peace and International Security met in Geneva from 13 to 15 October during the 131st IPU Assembly. In the absence of the elected President, Ms. Z. Drif Bitat (Algeria) took the chair.

At its first meeting, on 13 October, the Committee held its first hearing on implementation of the IPU resolution on The role of parliaments in striking a balance between national security, human security and individual freedoms, and in averting the threat to democracy, adopted in Cape Town in 2008. This resolution was selected not only because of its great current relevance, but because some 20 parliaments had postponed the implementation of several of its articles while fulfilling their statutory obligation to submit an annual report. The discussion was preceded by the statements of two speakers.

First, Ms. B. Jónsdóttir (Iceland) spoke as an expert on individual freedoms and human security. She stressed that the digital age and private life could be mutually exclusive and that, without privacy, there could be no functional democracy since the pillars on which it rested included private life, transparency, responsibility and freedom of expression. She herself had been a victim of human rights violations after co-producing a video that had been disseminated by Wikileaks.

Drawing a parallel between the ability of governments to spy on the citizens of other countries and the implementation of the 2008 resolution, she regretted the failure to implement paragraph 24 thereof, in which the Assembly “Calls on parliaments to monitor the scope of surveillance and the amount of data collected by public and private organizations, to gauge any changes in the balance between the citizen and the State, and, in this process, to ensure that laws are framed and enforced in such a way as to take account of fast-moving technological developments”. If that provision had been implemented by every parliament in the world, her privacy would not have been violated.

Mr. P. Martin-Lalande (France) spoke about counter-terrorism and his country’s legal arsenal, which evidenced the desire and the need to adapt continually to new forms of terrorism and to deal with its growing intensity. It was important to implement paragraph 5 of the resolution, in which the Assembly “Urges national parliaments to enact effective anti-terrorism legislation, in keeping with the relevant international instruments and commitments, including the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and to assess such legislation at regular intervals so as to ensure that it is fully compatible with national security and individual freedoms”. He also spoke of the need for strict monitoring of restrictions on public freedoms since counter-terrorism legislation was closely linked to the highly sensitive issue of individual freedoms. Legislators always sought to strike a balance between the prevention of crimes against the public order, including the safety of persons and property, and the exercise of constitutionally protected freedoms, including freedom of movement, the inviolability of the home, the confidentiality of correspondence and respect for private life.

The discussion gave all the participants an opportunity to express their views regarding the various aspects of the resolution. Several of them said that it was difficult to find the balance called for in the resolution, while others described the systems that their countries had put in place and the implications of those systems for national security and the protection of public freedoms.

At the close of the hearing, Ms. Jónsdóttir called on her colleagues to ensure that their countries’ laws were respected and that universal laws, such as the 2008 resolution, were implemented in order to defend the right to privacy and to protect citizens from universal surveillance.

Mr. Martin-Lalande, for his part, proposed that the IPU should continue to monitor the implementation of the 2008 resolution, including by drawing up an implementation scoreboard. Thus, the resolution could be discussed on a regular basis and kept alive by requesting Members to submit periodic reports.

The Committee met for the second time on the afternoon of 15 October with a panel discussion on the theme of cyber warfare, which was also the topic of the resolution that was expected to be adopted by the IPU at the 132nd Assembly in Hanoi (Viet Nam). The purpose of the discussion was to give Committee members an opportunity to learn about current issues related to cyber warfare and to exchange views with experts in the field.  Ms. Z. Drif Bitat (Algeria), Vice-President, opened the meeting and introduced the experts who would make presentations during the two-and-a half-hour discussion:

  • Mr. Aapo Cederberg, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP)
  • Mr. Danil Kerimi, World Economic Forum (WEF)
  • Mr. Laurent Gisel, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
  • Mr. Marco Obiso, International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

She then gave the floor to Mr. Cederberg, moderator of the session.

The moderator introduced the topic, stressing the importance of a robust cyber policy in a domain that was crucial to wellbeing and security. He described various aspects of the subject in detail, explaining that cyberspace was an interactive domain made up of digital networks used to store, modify and communicate information. It included not only the Internet, but also the other information systems that supported businesses, infrastructures and services. It therefore included not only hardware, software, data and information, but also people, networks and the entire infrastructure that made social interaction possible. He then defined cyber security, which comprised five levels – civil, technical, economic, political, and military – and sought to overcome the problems that arose at each of those levels using effective tools for preventing and combating:

  • cyber warfare;
  • cyber terrorism;
  • cyber espionage;
  • cybercrime; and
  • cyber activism.

In closing, he wondered whether cyber defence might become a new aspect of sovereignty and defence policy.

The other panellists were given the floor in order to address additional aspects of cyber warfare. In order to focus the debate on the main topic, the representative of the ICRC informed the Committee that international humanitarian law should be used to place limits on cyber warfare in order to protect civilians.  He explained the concepts of “cyber attack” and “cyber warfare”, which could be used by different people to mean different things. The term “cyber attack” referred to broad data collection operations, such as industrial espionage, and other cybercrimes occurring outside the context of armed conflict. That kind of cyber attack was not covered by international humanitarian law. The term “cyber warfare”, on the other hand, referred to large data stream operations employed as methods of warfare. Those operations were intended to cause death, suffering and destruction during an armed conflict and thus fell within the scope of international humanitarian law.

The representative of the ICRC expressed concern that cyber warfare might have dramatic humanitarian consequences, resulting in high numbers of civilian casualties and significant property damage. Recalling the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I) of 1977, he said that there was no legal vacuum in cyber-space since, under article 36 of that instrument, any new weapon, means or method of warfare was subject to international humanitarian law. One challenge lay in the anonymity of cyberspace, which made it difficult for States to attribute acts of aggression to the perpetrators in a timely manner. A second challenge was the interconnectedness of cyberspace: the same networks, routes and cables were shared by civilian and military users, making it impossible to determine who owned what. It was therefore strongly recommended that States should apply the law of armed conflict under international humanitarian law to cyber warfare and should review their existing legislation in light of the development of new weapons.

The representative of the WEF recalled that cyberspace not only carried potential risks and threats to society; it also offered opportunities that had been unthinkable before the development of the Internet.  The hyper-connectivity of the Web had had unintended consequences, and security had not yet caught up to its technological potential. Moreover, the costs of risks and product security had been overlooked at the outset. Since most network infrastructures are privately owned, it was crucial to include private stakeholders.

The representative of the ITU stressed the need to take a bottom-up approach and to ensure coordination at the national level in securing infrastructures. Unless countries had mechanisms for including all stakeholders at the national level, all efforts at the international level would fail. The solution lay in a combination of national coordination and international cooperation. It was also necessary to synthesize the various national perspectives and bring them to the international level.

The statements made by Committee members focused on the following issues:

  1. Legal considerations, the importance of defining the terms “cyberspace” and “cyber warfare” in new national legislation and the need for new international conventions;
  2. The need for international cooperation and, in particular, the role of international organizations and the importance of confidence-building  measures at the national, bilateral and global levels;
  3. Especially in the case of developing countries, the need for capacity-building programmes so that they could provide adequate technological responses;
  4. The difficult balance between State security and individual freedom; young populations, in particular, would reject close regulation of the cybersphere;
  5. The problematic issue of false information, especially in countries in conflict, where the Internet was often used to threaten opponents, spread panic and disseminate false information to the public.

There was general agreement on the need to take legislative measures at the national and international levels to secure the cybersphere. As an agent of change, the IPU was requested to promote best practices and facilitate discussions that would increase parliamentary awareness and lead to the drafting of relevant legislation.

The Bureau of the Standing Committee met on 14 October 2014.  It established its work programme for the 132nd IPU Assembly, to be held in Hanoi, Viet Nam, in March 2015.  At that Assembly, the Committee would first discuss the draft resolution on Cyber warfare – A serious threat to peace and global security. It would then consider the proposed amendments to the draft resolution in plenary with a view to submitting it to the Assembly for adoption.  With regard to the preparation of a longer-term work plan, the Bureau decided to take time to consider the matter and, in a month, to prepare a synthesis of their ideas in order to submit a comprehensive proposal to the Committee at its next session.

The Bureau also considered the question of the successor to Mr. G. Schneemann (South Africa) as President of the Committee and proposed the election of Mr. J. R. Tau (South Africa) to replace him. It also proposed that Mr. A. Omari (Morocco) should be confirmed as Vice-President.  On 15 October 2014, the Committee approved these proposals. Nevertheless, one vacancy on the Bureau, from the Asia-Pacific Group, remained unfilled because no nomination had been received from that Geopolitical Group. Following the election to the Executive Committee of the representative from the African Group, the seat for that group became vacant. The Bureau therefore comprised 16 members.

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