NPR: U.S. Announces Its Withdrawal From U.N. Human Rights Council

June 19, 2018 5:09 PM ET

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaks Tuesday at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaks Tuesday at the Department of State in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 6:15 p.m. ET

After more than a year of complaints and warnings — some subtle and others a little less so — the Trump administration has announced that the United States is withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced the decision in a joint statement Tuesday.

“I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments,” Haley told the media. “On the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”

The move comes as little surprise from an administration that frequently has lambasted the 47-member body for a gamut of perceived failures — particularly the dubious rights records of many of its member countries, as well as what Haley has repeatedly called the council’s “chronic bias against Israel.”

Haley harked back to a speech she delivered to the council one year ago this month, in which she laid down something of an ultimatum. At that point, she told members that they must stop singling out Israel for condemnation and must clean up their roster — which includes VenezuelaChina and Saudi Arabia, among others — or the council could bid the U.S. farewell.

“If the Human Rights Council is going to be an organization we entrust to protect and promote human rights, it must change,” she said. “If it fails to change, then we must pursue the advancement of human rights outside of the council.”

In the year that has elapsed since those speeches, such reforms never happened. Instead, she said, the council stayed silent on violent repression in Venezuela, a member state, and welcomed another country with a problematic record of its own, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The council ceases to be worthy of its name,” Haley said, explaining the U.S. withdrawal. “Such a council in fact damages the cause of human rights.”

Trump’s diplomatic team is not the first within the U.S. to voice such criticism.

When the council was first established in 2006,the administration of George W. Bush withheld its membership over similar concerns. And when the Obama administration announced in 2009 that it would reverse course and seek membership, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. at the time, Susan Rice, said the decision was made out of a belief “that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights.”

Several U.S. critics, in condemning the decision Tuesday, echoed precisely this desire for reform as a principal reason to stay in the council, not leave it.

“The UN Human Rights Council has always been a problem. Instead of focusing on real human-rights issues, the council has used its time and resources to bully Israel and question Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state,” Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a statement Tuesday. “But the way to deal with this challenge is to remain engaged and work with partners to push for change.

“By withdrawing from the council, we lose our leverage and allow the council’s bad actors to follow their worst impulses unchecked — including running roughshod over Israel.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said the U.S. focus on Israel’s treatment has actually caused American officials to lose sight of the good work the council has done elsewhere.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel,” Roth said in a statement to NPR. “Like last time when the U.S. government stepped away from the Council for similar reasons, other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure the Council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, seen earlier this year during a presentation on the conflict in Syria. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. will be withdrawing from the council.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

And Richard Gowan, a fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, told NPR’s Michele Kelemen that there is another potential issue muddying the waters of this decision: the recent condemnations leveled at the Trump administration’s immigration policies by international human-rights officials.

In a span of less than two months, U.S. officials have separated some 2,300 children from their parents after they crossed the border into the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security. And the administration’s policy has attracted a sharp rebuke from the U.N. high commissioner on human rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein.

“The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” he said Monday, in comments opening the 38th session of the Human Rights Council.

Hussein pointed to criticism from the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who referred to the border policy as “government-sanctioned child abuse.” And the commissioner noted that the U.S. remains the sole U.N. member not to ratify the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a landmark agreement passed nearly three decades ago.

Pompeo, however, said the matter is simple: The U.N. Human Rights Council is not capable of fulfilling its mission without reform — and those desired reforms remain unfulfilled.

“The Human Rights Council has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy, with many of the world’s worst human-rights abuses going ignored and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself,” he said Tuesday. “The only thing worse than a council that does almost nothing to protect human rights is a council that covers for human-rights abuses — and is therefore an obstacle to progress and an impediment to change.”

“Google Should Not Be In The Business Of War”: Understanding the Weaponization of Artificial Intelligence

Google's Chelsea New York City office

By Marc Eliot Stein, June 8, 2018

In early April, more than 3100 Google employees signed a letter that begins with the words “Google should not be in the business of war”. The letter is a response to the company’s participation in a new US Department of Defense artificial intelligence program called Project Maven, which it describes as a “customized AI surveillance engine” designed to interpret visual images from drones, and concludes with a powerful request from Google employees to their management:

“Recognizing Google’s moral and ethical responsibility, and the threat to Google’s reputation, we request that you:

1. Cancel this project immediately

2. Draft, publicize, and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology”

This brave act of protest and social responsibility is remarkable for its clarity, and deserves to be recognized as one of the few known cases of active scientists or workers directly objecting to their participation in the horrors of war, along with the Russell-Einstein manifesto of 1955, which urged the abolition of war as the only path forward for a world now armed on all sides with nuclear weapons.

This remarkable letter, along with the resignation of dozens of Google employees, proved its power over a month later when Google management announced that it would not renew Project Maven after the contract is completed in March 2019, and acknowledged the “backlash” against Google’s public reputation as the primary reason behind this management decision. While this response does not satisfy the demands in the original letter, it is clearly a step in the right direction, and shows the potential of the Google employee act of protest as a foundation to build upon as the world grapples with the realization that the US military (and, presumably, other military forces as well) are moving quickly to weaponize artificial intelligence.

World BEYOND War has published a new petition to thank these Google employees. We should not only thank them for their courage but should also each think hard for ourselves about the implications of this new form of technology, and about our shared responsibility to avoid the worst case scenarios of its continued use.

The best way to imagine these worst case scenarios is to think about the militarization of two capabilities in which artificial intelligence already touches our everyday lives: facial recognition and driverless vehicles. As you know if you’ve ever tagged a photo on Facebook, artificial intelligence has already reached the point at which you can be easily and immediately identified by algorithm. “Safety cameras” have also gone up all over the world, suddenly granting unknown organizations the unchecked ability to gather and match faces with “identity databases” that contain our information without our permission, knowledge or control.

The technology of driverless vehicles has also progressed with little involvement or awareness on the part of the public commons. The first death in a driverless car was in 2016, when a Tesla crashed into a truck. The first case of a pedestrian killed by a driverless vehicle was only three months ago, in March 2018, when an autonomous Uber struck down a woman crossing the street in Arizona.

These facts explain the urgency behind the Google letter, which reflects a technology industry obsessed by profit, competition and shareholder value. Here are some other points that must be understood to gain a full picture of the dilemma our world is now already in, and the harsh consequences we currently face.

Project Maven is a small project. JEDI is the larger project.

The Google letter called attention to Project Maven, which the company now says it will not renew. Even more importantly, the letter called attention to the existence of a larger US Department of Defense project called JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure), which should be the primary focus of continuing attention to this topic. There is little public information about this secret project, but its scope includes both artificial intelligence and cloud computing, which indicates massive computing power and scalability, as well as access to a bottomless supply of databases containing geographic and individual personal information.

Like most military technology projects, JEDI is not meant to be visible even to the taxpayers who pay for it, but we should hope that information about this large and expensive project will be released to the public. The craven choice of a project name obviously meant to invoke “Star Wars” suggests that the Department of Defense views this project with a disturbing level of grandeur and self-flattery. Yoda would not be impressed.

Google employees spoke up. Where are Amazon and Microsoft employees?

The letter signed by 3100+ Google employees calls out other companies by name:

“The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google.”

Indeed, in the very lucrative field of cloud computing, Amazon is even bigger than Google. While most people think of Amazon as the world’s largest online store, software developers and technologists know of a completely different Amazon. This company leads the world in cloud computing, allowing both small and large organizations to purchase and use server capabilities quickly and easily. Ten years ago, most companies ran their own servers. Today, most companies rent server space from Amazon. Government and military organizations are among those who rely on Amazon’s cloud services, which also include advanced artificial intelligence and database capabilities. We should hope that Amazon employees will be inspired by their peers at Google and begin to speak up in public about the social consequences of the work they do. Will any employees of Amazon declare, as their Google peers have, that “Amazon should not be in the business of war”?

Companies like Google and Amazon have a unique commitment to open source communities.

All corporations are not alike, and indeed Google’s famous self-imposed rule to “Not Be Evil” has been taken seriously by countless open source developers who may not be Google employees but do contribute and interact with Google on open source libraries such as TensorFlow, which provides deep learning capabilities.

This is one reason why the Google employees letter was such a shock wave to the global community of open source developers. While a traditional military contractor like Raytheon or General Dynamics typically carries out all its work in private, artificial intelligence libraries like TensorFlow are unique collaborations between corporations and the public commons. The global open source software community has been integral to the development and healthy growth of the entire Internet, and this community has always stood for an explicit sense of social responsibility. When employees say “Google should not be in the business of war”, they speak not only for their fellow Google employees but also for the international community of open source developers who contribute to their projects.

Weaponized AI is now a reality, and not just in USA.

We should not have needed a letter from 3100 Google employees to warn us about the fact that the age of weaponized artificial intelligence is already upon us, and not just in the United States of America. In USA, this will inevitably result in a growing public fear and hysteria about what other countries are doing in the field of weaponized AI. Military profiteers all over the world are surely counting on this arms race to escalate. This is the terrible reality of the situation we are already in.

The only sane answer is the abolition of war.

The manifesto about nuclear proliferation signed by Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and others in 1955 pointed to an answer that still eludes us. The only path to sanity for a world gripped by fear and primed to explode is the abolition of war. This was perfectly clear in 1955, but the leaders of the time were not capable of delivering on this hope.

Today, 63 years later, we see as clearly as ever that war only brings more war, and that technological advancements will continue to raise the stakes. The sickening vision of killer drones connected to massive real-time databases and equipped with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence capabilities chasing human beings down is no longer a vision of the future (as it was in the frightening “Metalhead” episode of “Black Mirror”, which aired only last year). All the pieces are in place to make this sickening vision of a reality, and the courageous act of 3100+ Google employees has now revealed to us that even some corporations that have pledged to uphold a moral standard are moving forward at full speed towards this future that nobody wants. The stakes are raised, yet again. The responsibility is on all of us – not only Google employees, not only software developers, but all of us – to solve the worst problem the world has ever known and work towards the complete abolition of war.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: https://worldbeyondwar.org/google-should-not-be-in-the-business-of-war-understanding-the-weaponization-of-artificial-intelligence/

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