Mining company buys armed drones for 'riot control'

  • 18/06/2014

An African mining company has ordered more than two dozen drones capable of shooting pepper spray, plastic ammunition and blinding lasers.

The supplier, South African-based Desert Wolf, describes the 'Skunk' as a "riot control copter" – but there are concerns it breaks international treaties on the use of torture, lasers and even the Geneva Convention.

"This is a deeply disturbing and repugnant development, and we are convinced that any reasonable government will move quickly to stop the deployment of advanced battlefield technology on workers or indeed the public involved in legitimate protests and demonstrations," a spokesperson for the International Trade Union Confederation told the BBC.

"Firing plastic balls or bullets from the air will maim and kill," says Noel Sharkey of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. "Using pepper spray against a crowd of protesters is a form of torture and should not be allowed."

The Skunk can carry a payload of up to 45kg. It has four high-pressure paintball guns on board that can shoot plastic bullets and up to 4000 balls of pepper spray. It can shoot 80 rounds a second.

There are two high-definition cameras, plus a thermal camera with night vision capabilities. It also has loudspeakers and laser pointers, which are prohibited in combat by the Geneva Convention.

"I don't think there’s anything like that in the world," Hennie Kieser, director of Desert Wolf, told South African news site defenceweb.co.za.

The company buying the drones has not been named. Desert Wolf says it has more deals in the pipeline.

"Some [are] mines in South Africa, some security companies in South Africa and outside South Africa, some police units outside South Africa and a number of other industrial customers," says Mr Kieser.

He says the non-lethal drones will actually improve safety for mine employees, and prevent repeats of massacres like that at Lonmin Marikana in 2012, where police shot dead 34 striking miners.

But the International Committee for Robot Arms Control isn't convinced.

"The use of remote-controlled drones to police or attack civilian individuals or groups with violent force is an offense against human dignity and a threat to democratic sovereignty," says Mark Gubrud.

"It is also a potential precursor to scenarios in which the robots would operate fully autonomously, choosing their own targets outside of human control."

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source: newshub archive