Can Drones Prevent Civil Deaths in Conflicts?

MONUSCO Peacekeepers of InBatt 2 defending their Kiwanja base as M-23 rebels attacked the town. Several casualties where evacuated and many civilian came for protection, Kiwanja the 25th of July 2012. © MPIO-NKBrrrr

Can Drones Prevent Civil Deaths in Conflicts?

It is one of the top priorities that today’s technological devices are beneficial to human life and even prevent deaths. It is thought that unarmed drones used by the United Nations can prevent civilian casualties in armed conflicts.

The drones have been commemorated with bad negative incidents such as the murder of terror suspects in the Middle East, the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, and the attempted assassination of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. However, there are also unarmed drones that are not used for attack purposes. Michael Yekple of The Conversation has been monitoring the use of unarmed drone by the United Nations (UN) since its inception in 2013. According to Yekple, drones have a certain potential for saving civilian lives. But that doesn’t mean that drones can do it automatically.

The UN is sending peacekeepers, police and other UN officials to various conflict zones around the world, trying to stop or alleviate the conflict. Civilians in countries with civil war or sectarian conflicts often die of deliberate killing or being caught in the middle of the conflict. In 2016, UN troops could not leave their bases due to clashes between armed groups in Juba, the capital of South Sudan; therefore, 73 civilians were killed and 217 women or girls were sexually assaulted.

In 2014, the UN started to use drones in the Democratic Republic of Congo and more recently in Mali and Central African Republic. These drones are used to gather information and direct the UN peacekeeping force to threatened people and places.


Although all of this looks good in theory, there has never been an operation that saves military mobility and saves lives thanks to drones. The UN’s history is full of methods that are being used to prevent civilian casualties, but seem to be useless. Because of these failures in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, it is unclear whether drone operations will be successful either.

First of all, it’s hard to direct the drones to the right place. While the number of drones to scan 2 million 300 thousand square meters in Congo is five, the number of drones that can be activated due to financial constraints is limited to only one. In this case, the peacekeepers in the field are less likely to react quickly.

Even if drones can be deployed in the right place, the coordination between drone pilots, intelligence experts and peacekeeping troops must be very close in order to react quickly to prevent civilian casualties. Drone pilots are required to write reports and send data to intelligence agencies, to identify whether there is a threat to civilians and to inform the peacekeeping force. However, the UN does not have enough officials to analyze drone intelligence and reports. In this case, the process ends in days or weeks.

15 UN intelligence experts in Congo, for example, say they are doing the work of 100s. The UN, however, has historically not favored confidential intelligence services, as the agency relies on transparency. Furthermore, even if intelligence is taken in time, the number of peacekeepers or helicopters to intervene to prevent civilian casualties may be insufficient.

However, drones are still thought to be useful in reducing civilian casualties. In Congo, for example, drones found that armed groups were smuggling gold and that smuggling was stopped. Again, thanks to UN drones, the lives of 14 civilians who capsized their boats were saved.

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