December 4, 2023No Comments

Quill Robinson on the Nexus of Climate Change and Security

Quill Robinson talks about the intersection of climate and security. He delves into the topics of energy security, the role of China and the U.S., and shares his thoughts on COP28 (about to take place in the week of the interview's recording).

Quill Robinson is a Senior Program Manager and Associate Fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Interviewers: Idriss El Alaoui Talibi, Michele Mignogna, Iris Raith, Frederik Steinhauser - Defense & Procurement Team

December 4, 2023No Comments

The connection between the Latin Kings “Chicago” in Milan and organized crime in Ecuador

Author: Giovanni Giacalone - Latin America Team

In mid-November 2023, the Italian State Police arrested two Ecuadorean citizens in Milan, both accused of armed aggression, about a fight that broke out on July 9th between two different Latin American groups outside a disco club in Sesto San Giovanni, a commune in the northern part of Milan’s metropolitan area.

The victim, a 20-year-old Peruvian citizen, was attacked with a machete, receiving blows to the shoulders and the chest; one of these strikes nearly hit his heart. The individual was hospitalized in critical condition at Niguarda Hospital only to be discharged days later with a prognosis of 90 days. Two other individuals who were accompanying him were also beaten with punches and kicks.

The two arrested attackers, both 23 years of age and Ecuadorian citizens, were identified as belonging to the "Chicago" Latin Kings gang.

The Sesto San Giovanni area has long been the scene of activity for this gang; it is no coincidence that last April an operation by the State Police, coordinated by the Milan Prosecutor's Office, led to the arrest of nine members of the Latin Kings Chicago, all aged between 20 and 36 (four Ecuadorian citizens, three Peruvians, one Salvadoran and one Argentinian), who have been accused of criminal conspiracy, attempted murder, personal injury, affray, damage, aggravated theft and dangerous throwing of objects.

The operation developed following investigations regarding an attack that occurred on 5 March 2022, in front of a well-known Sesto S.G. food stand in via Chiese, against the former leader of the rival gang MS13, known as “Kamikaze”; on that occasion, the Latin Kings had punched the victim, hit him with empty beer bottles and with a machete, severely wounding his hand.

The same members of the Latin Kings were also responsible for two fights that occurred on 30 April 2022 in a park in the Brenta hood and via Avezzana, both in Milan (including the theft of an electric scooter during the brawl) and on 30 June 2022 in Assago. Two of the fights were against MS13 members.

Furthermore, on the morning of November 6, 2022, some members of the same group attacked a group of Latin Americans not linked to any gang who were standing outside the "Caffe Glamour" nightclub in via Stamira d'Ancona. One of them was also repeatedly hit with a stone in the chest, back of the head and forehead while he was on the ground, and was consequently hospitalized with head trauma and several fractures.

At the beginning of October 2023, the nine detained Latin Kings Chicago members received their prison sentences: Milan’s Latin Kings leader, 35-year-old Kleber Miguel Cortez Cortez, alias “Cao”, was sentenced to two years of prison; 27-year-old Peruvian Jhonny Farfan Chavez, alias “Don”, leader of the “clique” of Cologno Monzese, was sentenced to 3 years.

The highest sentence, 3 years and 4 months, was inflicted on the 25-year-old Ecuadorian citizen Isaac Giovanny Velez Garcia, alias "Chukino", the main perpetrator of the attack outside the "Caffe Glamour". Five other Latin Kings members were placed in the house, while a sixth one was acquitted.

However, the most interesting aspect of the case concerns a phone interception dated May 15, 2022, between the leader of the Latin Kings Chicago of Milan, "Cao", and one of his compatriots where reference is made to the murder of the former Latin Kings Chicago leader in Ecuador, Manuel Zuniga “Majestic”, killed in an ambush in Quito on May 14, 2022. During the conversation, Cao stated that a member of their gang carried out the murder, boasting that the ambush took place at 7 AM and he received the photos of the murder scene, on his cell phone, ten minutes after it took place.

Source: By Albert Mestre, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Cao then referred to a blood feud within the Latin Kings in Ecuador, explaining to his interlocutor that the gang was divided, that a few months earlier the other faction had killed one of their "Incas" (chief) and therefore they retaliated: "an Inca for an Inca." Cao went further and also explained that, according to rumours coming from Ecuador, it was another leader of the same Latin Kings "Chicago", referred to as "El Diablo", alias of Carlos Manuel Macias Saverio, who killed Majestic. Cao then stated that "Majestic was in charge of the Latin Kings, but the one who called the shots was El Diablo". Cao also speculated that Diablo could become the next target as the blood feud moves ahead.

“El Diablo” Carlos Manuel Macias Saverio is a heavy name in Ecuadorean organized crime, indicated by a member of his gang (alias “Junior”), in an interview with the British newspaper Daily Mail, as the point man in Ecuador for an organization of Albanian narcos led by drug lord Dritan Rexhepi. According to the Daily Mail investigation, the cocaine is loaded onto ships in the port of Guayaquil and then shipped to the European ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.

Rexhepi was a long-time fugitive and was wanted by the Belgian, Albanian and Italian authorities as he had escaped in 2011 from Voghera prison where he was serving a sentence for attempted murder. In November 2023, Rexhepi was detected and arrested in Turkey. 

Among other things, it should be highlighted that although Rexhepi had been arrested in Ecuador in 2015, he continued to manage trafficking from the Latacunga penitentiary, putting himself at the head of the Albanian "Kompania Bello" cartel.

In November 2021, Ecuadorean judicial authorities granted Rexhepi probation despite the serious crimes for which he was being detained, and the drug lord quickly disappeared.

In the summer of 2023, Ecuadorean media sources speculated that Rexhepi was hiding in a luxurious neighbourhood not far from the port of Guayaquil, but then in November, he was arrested in Turkey.

In the meantime, the whereabouts of Carlos Manuel Macias Saverio “Diablo” are still unknown. According to Ecuadorean sources, the individual controls the drug business in the Duràn area, east of Guayaquil. He is wanted for murder, and in 2014 he was also sentenced to 2 years and 4 months for drug trafficking and illegal possession of weapons. 

November 8, 2023No Comments

Iranian women, civil disobedience and what has changed after the death of Mahsa Amini 

Authors: Ilaria Larusso, Margherita Ceserani, William Kingston-Cox, Shahin Modarres - Iran Team

On 16 September 2022, the Iranian’s morality police - the Guidance Patrol - arrested 22-year-old Iranian woman Masha Amini for allegedly not wearing the hijab in accordance with the proscribed governmental legislation. Whilst in custody, the Iranian authorities claimed she had suffered a heart attack, leading to her death. However, many witnesses reported that Amini had been severely beaten and that her death was the direct consequence of Iranian police actions.
Her death has sparked widespread protests and civil unrest - commonly known as the Masha Amini protests - whose advocates seek to topple the Iranian regime, bring about the reintroduction of the protection of civil and political rights for women, enforce the revocation of mandatory hijab and other religious morality laws, as well as the dissolution of the Guidance Patrol. However, Amini’s death has served as a catalyst, rather than a creationary force, for Iranian resistance against the system.

As such, this article explores the history of the women’s movement in Iran since 1979, the year the mandatory hijab laws were introduced, as well as the history of Iranian civil disobedience against the government, to assess and analyze what, if anything, has changed since the death of Masha Amini.

Women’s movement in Iran since 1979
Clearly, the rise to power of Khomeini’s theocratic rule in Iran brought significant transformations in the country as a whole. Nevertheless, the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution for Iranian women particularly underwent considerable changes, spread across every aspect of their lives as citizens and human beings. The advancements women conquered during the White Revolution, a modernization period guided by the last Shah just before the monarchy was dismissed, suffered important steps back due to the strict interpretation of Sharia law - i.e., legislation determined by Islamic religious texts. The latter immediately manifested itself, for instance, with the elimination of the 1967 Family Protection Law right after Khomeini rose to power, eliminating rights for women and mothers and re-establishing strict patriarchal standards.

On the other hand, the restriction of rights was promptly matched with manifestations of women voicing their discontent towards these setbacks - the first one ever after the revolution was symbolically held right in 1979, on International Women’s Day in relation to the mandatory enforcement of the veil. What has always been peculiar about women’s movements in Iran is the bi-partisan character of the arguments used in support of gender equality. These theoretical grounds are not traceable back to a single source: as a result, Islamic theses intertwine with socialist and liberal arguments in an essential way. Accordingly, an indigenous trait of Iranian feminism resides precisely in its capacity to bring together diverse forces which, despite internal disagreements, all aim at achieving female autonomy and true empowerment. It is symbolic that, as they protested the Shah for prohibiting the veil in the second half of the 1930s, after the revolution the movement was taking the streets for the exact opposite reason.

Throughout the initial years of the Islamic Republic’s existence, Iranian women managed to regain some of the spaces that were taken away from them with the establishment of the new regime - first and foremost, judicial courts and public institutions. Female active involvement in the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 was also praised by the main members of the clergy. However, with Ayatollah Khamenei (since 1989), an even more rigorous religious rule further enhanced gender inequalities to the detriment of women. This political phase for activists also saw the increasing involvement of female-based press, as exemplified by the well-known Zanan magazine founded in 1992. Feminist media helped voice the constellation of perspectives and opinions that ultimately all advocated for the liberation of women and their reproductive, social and political rights. The situation fluctuated between reformist and conservative governments from 1997 to 2008. Conservative leader Ahmadinejad chose a particularly hard line towards gender equality, closing Zanan and arresting activists involved in the One Million Signature campaign. Tensions between the government and social movements reached their peak in 2009, after the controversial vote that saw Ahmadinejad's re-election. The Green Movement, the name given to the pro-democracy force that took the streets in those days, saw many Iranian women as protagonists and proactive agents of change. The non-violent protests - features strongly advocated and adopted by Iranian feminists - were suppressed by the authority, leading to the death of civilians such as Neda Agha-Soltan and the arrest and torture of several thousands of people.

Rouhani’s rule, starting in 2013, can be seen as a phase in between for the women’s movement: some legal victories were achieved, but broader changes remained unseen. Concerning the number of activists sentenced to decades of years in prison and controversial trials, together with episodes like the suicide of Sahar Khodayari after her arrest for having attended a football match explain very vividly what is the context in which Iranian women live and organize their civil resistance. As a consequence, it did not come as a surprise that further uprisings occurred when, in September 2022, the news that Mahsa Amini had died, after being detained by the Iranian morality police, reached the broader public.

Source: photo by Shahin Modarres

Iranian women in the aftermath of Mahsa Amini’s death
The protests in the aftermath of Mahsa Amini’s death have once more expressed the power of Iranian women to make their voices heard within Iran as well as obtaining global resonance thanks to the power of social media (i.e. via X). Since September 16th of last year, the burnt veil has become a prominent symbol, disseminating rapidly a willingness for political change across the country. Women activists of all kinds have stood up for equal rights, such as the right to be equal under the law, one’s freedom in the public sphere - including the right to choose one’s clothing - and the right to participate equally in political life. Indeed, the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement is not addressed to a specific audience, but instead, it welcomes any religious, or secular, people of any gender, and sends to the government the clear message that part of the Iranian population is at odds with its current tightness.

Although the veiling order was not strictly applied formally, during the last year systematic attacks on the female gender have occurred starting from November 2022. One of the most notorious cases is the poisoning in schools, which according to the UN hit more than 1200 young girls. The state reaction to these events was slow and inadequate compared to the quick deployment of personnel during the protests, also considering that the words pronounced by the Iranian Interior Minister reduced the attempts to undermine the activists cause to simple stress due to exams.

The restriction to freedom of speech shortly followed, once again targeting those who were advocating feminist activism, such as journalists and lawyers. Examples would be plentiful, however, it is worth remembering the irregular trial of Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi in May and again in July 2023. After 8 months of custody, both the women were judged for exposing Amini’s death and inciting protests against national security. Law has been used as a tool to intimidate Iranians, retain them from joining the Movement and gain feminist consciousness. Indeed, it has been reported that several other journalists have perished in an effort to raise the voices of the activists instance.

More recently, the Iranian government has presented a pro-Islamic dress code bill, then adopted by the Parliament on August 13th, now it is waiting for the approval of the Guardian Council. The implementation of such a law could envisage gender segregation in public spaces, fines and between 5 and 10 years of prison for women not correctly wearing the compulsory headscarf, as well as for businesses who may host such women, and the reduction of the owner’s income up to 3 months.

All in all, the woman's body affair is becoming an ever more political matter if we consider that in March 2024 elections will be held in Iran and that the burnt hijab is denoting the urge for democratization. Nevertheless, it is hardly realistic to expect the Movement to turn into a political party or for existing parties to take over the feminist demand for reform.

In the wake of Mahsa Amini's tragic death in September 2022, a significant transformation has swept across Iran. This article explored the history of Iranian women's activism since the 1979 Revolution, revealing a narrative of resilience and commitment to gender equality.

Throughout the years, Iranian women have consistently voiced their grievances, enduring hardships and championing civil disobedience as a means to assert their rights. Amini's death served as a catalyst, sparking renewed protests demanding equal rights, freedom of expression, and the repeal of repressive laws.

However, these efforts have faced staunch opposition from the Iranian government, which has responded with tough measures, including systematic attacks on women and limitations on freedom of speech. A proposed pro-Islamic dress code bill adds to these concerns.

The Woman, Life, Freedom Movement embodies hope for a more equal system, although it may not become a formal political entity. Mahsa Amini's tragedy has not only mobilized Iranian women but has also ignited a global conversation about their rights and the need for change in Iran.

In conclusion, Amini's death has galvanized Iranian women, highlighting their resilience and commitment to justice. Their contest continues, serving as a reminder that the pursuit of equality and freedom knows no boundaries

November 6, 2023No Comments

Israel’s Possible War Scenarios: From a Temporarily Restrained Conflict to a Prolonged All-out War

Author: Omri Brinner - Middle East Team

With the beginning of its ground invasion into the Gaza Strip, Israel is at a crossroads it hoped it wouldn’t be in. It can be argued that any route Israel would take in this historic intersection would lead to regional escalation, even if only in the long-run. It is safe to assume, then, that even if there is no immediate backlash to the Israeli ground invasion, another front, sooner or later, will follow. 

The most popular Israeli approach in responding to the October 7 Hamas attack is that the IDF’s infantry and armored brigades would invade the Gaza Strip, backed by heavy artillery, actionable intelligence, and preceded by intense aerial bombardment (as is happening). Israel, it has been argued, must respond forcefully, or else it would project to its enemies that it would refrain from war at all costs. 

The ground invasion itself is meant to root out Hamas from the Gaza Strip and to disable its military capabilities. The other objective is the release of the 239 Israeli and foreign hostages, most of whom are civilians. Ideally – from Israel's point of view – the IDF would achieve its goals in the Gaza Strip without having to fight on another front simultaneously, as its capabilities in fighting multiple fronts at the same time are limited, and such a scenario will necessitate Israel to change its objectives. However, this is the least likely scenario. Total victory against Hamas is not guaranteed – and even unlikely  within the limits of military power – and the ground operation can last for months. What is more likely is that Israel would embark on a limited ground incursion (due to American pressure and the possibility of another front elsewhere), achieve some tactical victories against Hamas, and will force a ceasefire on better conditions – which would lead to the release of some hostages (most likely women, children, and the elderly). However, the restrained war efforts in Gaza will surely be followed by war and terror on other fronts, and possibly simultaneously.

One ongoing front is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Hamas, armed militias, and lone-wolf terrorists take arms against Israeli civilians and security personnel. At the time of the Hamas attack on October 7, most of the IDF was stationed in the West Bank, demonstrating its symbolic and strategic importance to Israel. The latter would have to react forcefully to any significant development there. It is in Hamas’ interest to start a new intifada in the West Bank, and possibly in Israeli cities, in order to destabilize and weaken Israel.  

The other ongoing front, where Israel might face a full-scale war, is from the north. Hezbollah, with its arsenal of 150,000 projectiles (of close, medium, and long range) and army of approximately 100,000 soldiers, most of whom are well-trained and with some battle experience, pose a strategic threat – even bigger than the one Hamas poses. 

Thus far, Hezbollah – which is backed by Iran and serves as its most strategic proxy in the region – has been reacting to Israel’s limited ground invasion, albeit with restraint. While Hezbollah needs to show it is committed to the Palestinian cause, it aims to avoid an all-out war with Israel. 


According to Israeli calculation, an all-out war is not fully in Hezbollah’s interests, nor is it in Iran’s. According to this theory, both Iran and Hezbollah would rather open an all-out war with Israel only once Iran guarantees applicable nuclear military capabilities, which, in the long run, seems inevitable. This means that from Israel’s point of view – and contrary to the best-case scenario described above – it would be better for Israel to engage with Hezbollah and Iran before the latter becomes a nuclear power. 

Israel, then, might choose to attack Hezbollah and either drag it into the war – and by so eliminating the surprise element of Hezbollah’s reaction – or, if Hezbollah chooses not to retaliate, to reestablish its deterrence up north.  While it may seem like an act of self harm, the Israeli public would view a Hezbollah surprise attack as another failure of the government, IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad. In a way, then, these institutions hope to project to the public that Israel is on the front foot, and that if a war with Hezbollah and Iran is inevitable in the long run, then better now than later. It is important to note that while Israel calculates that the two Shia powers would rather avoid an all-out war prior to Iran’s nuclearization, Israel’s working assumption that Hamas was deterred and would have opted to avoid an armed conflict fell apart with the October 7 attack. Therefore, there are no guarantees that any theory that existed before the attack is still relevant.

Would Iran and Hezbollah wait peacefully for an Israeli strike, or for it to finish its fighting in Gaza? Unlikely. From their point of view, Iran and Hezbollah are happy to let Israel keep guessing whether they would join the war or not. From Israel’s standpoint, it cannot afford to be surprised again. While it is less likely that there would be a ground invasion from the north following the one from the Gaza Strip on October 7, an extensive missile attack on central Israel would be just as bad.

But initiating war with Hezbollah – and Iran – would force the US into the conflict, as it would be extremely challenging – on the verge of impossible – for Israel to conduct an all-out war with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran simultaneously. At the same time, if US forces end up fighting alongside Israel, then it is likely that other Iranian allies would occupy the US forces elsewhere in the region (such as in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria). While a recent poll shows that the vast majority of Americans are against US military involvement in the Middle East, the US would feel it has to protect its allies and interests in the region. 

It seems, then, that the region is ahead of a long period – whether months or years – of an armed conflict.

November 2, 2023No Comments

Airborne Insurgents: the Pluralization of Airpower Through Drones

Author: Michele Puggia - Military Strategy and Intelligence Team


The images of the massacre at the Supernova music festival near the Re'im kibbutz at the hands of Hamas are those that, in the public eye, marked the start of the ongoing hostilities between Israel and Gaza. These images are well-known as they are tragic. Even so, some of them, depicting the peculiarity of the attack, might raise some interesting questions concerning the capabilities of violent non-state actors (VNSA). Some of the pictures, along with Hamas's propaganda videos, have, in fact, shown the militants using motorised paragliders to swoop on the festival. While by no means sophisticated in terms of technology, these creative tactics, capitalising on the (limited) use of airspace, might be cause for concern.

Naturally, paragliders are just one small piece of the puzzle. VNSAs have been using air assets for quite some time now. The Tamil Air Tigers, for example, in 2007 used small commercial fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to conduct successful night raids on Sri Lankan military objectives. But the most relevant "new" tool in air warfare, is undoubtedly the drone. 

In another ITSS article by Danilo dalle Fave, the strategic utility of the use of drones by a nation such as Iran was underlined. In this article, the aim will be that of diving into the potential risks that these devices pose when in the hands of insurgents, and violent extremists.

Emerging Threat Scenarios

Commercial drones are cheap and replaceable, they don't require particular training, and radars have a hard time picking them out because of their small size, slow speed, and low flight path. And even when they are identified by an air-defence system, in many cases their destruction requires the use of expensive missiles, that are each worth many times more than a single drone; it then becomes clear how easy it could be to swarm and overload such systems.

Military-grade drones clearly represent a bigger threat in terms of destructive potential, but due to their cost and complexity, they are limited to those VNSAs with a sponsor state; relevant examples of these are Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthi rebels, all of which seem to have received drones from Iran or were aided in their development. Also, procurement of these drones, which are subject to regulations and restrictions, by VNSAs might still prove complex, which limits the main strength of drones such as the Shahed-136, which relies on its high numbers to overwhelm enemy defences.

Broadly speaking, the use of drones by VNSAs has provided these groups with cheap access to intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR), and also to ordnance delivery. ISIL has been particularly prolific in this endeavour.  Without sponsor-states providing them with higher-end capabilities, they have been using commercial drones to gather intelligence and create propaganda material since their inception. During the battle of Mosul, for example, they used drones to boost their C2 capabilities by spotting enemy roadblocks and re-directing vehicle-borne suicide bombers to their targets. They had been so effective that US Special Operations Commander General Raymond Thomas admitted that, for a time, ISIL enjoyed tactical superiority in the city's airspace. It seems fair to point out that this, albeit being a successful tactic, didn't prevent ISIL from losing Mosul.

In October 2016, ISIL also managed to kill 2 peshmerga fighters thanks to a booby-trapped drone that had been shot down. Drones have been since also adapted to carry and deliver small bombs, so as not to require the destruction of the drone itself.

These kinds of threats might seriously affect future battlefields. Force protection in insurgencies could become increasingly more complex, limiting troops' mobility and increasing the costs of operations. The impact of unpredictable drone attacks from above on morale would also be considerable. 

Nonetheless, these new threats are unfortunately not exclusive to battlefields. Aside from also being able to threaten rear bases and supply lines, drones bring new challenges also to states not at war. Transnational terrorist groups might in fact easily use commercial drones to scale up the number of victims of their attacks against the civilian population. It is not hard to imagine how much more devastating a coordinated attack, such as that of the Bataclan, would be if carried out with a number of explosive drones engaging intervening law enforcement officers. Amateur videos on the internet additionally show the possibility of fitting guns directly on drones. This would further increase the operational spectrum of terrorist and insurgent cells at home and abroad.


Defensive Prospects

One element is important to consider though. Until today, no drone attack, be it terrorist or against military forces, has led to the potentially catastrophic consequences envisioned by many experts. As a matter of fact, a report of the ICCThas found that among all VNSAs in the Middle East that use drones, none have, for example, mounted guns on their drones. "Suicide" and "bomber" drones have managed to achieve always limited results. Hamas has also failed to use its drones effectively against Israel, even when benefitting from Iran's expertise.

This might show that operating even simple commercial drones and rigging them for offensive purposes is more complex than it may seem. Besides, it is important to remember that the resources of these actors are not limitless, and while drones may be cheap, their use, maintenance, and weaponisation would require resources that won't be spent elsewhere, boby-trapping homes, producing roadside IEDs, buying weapons and so on.

Furthermore, millions are being spent on research for anti-drone technology. From directed energy weapons, to jamming guns and electronic warfare systems. And other, already-existing systems have proven to be moderately effective at countering drones without bringing a nation to bankruptcy; Ukrainian flak-guns and American CRAMs are two such examples.

Not all of these tools will fit all contexts, after all, it would be quite picturesque to imagine European landmarks such as Alexanderplatz or the Champs-Elysées protected by patriot or laser batteries. Law enforcement will need different tactics and tools than those needed by deployed military personnel.

The accessibility and unpredictability of drone use by malicious actors remain a relevant threat. As Chavez notes then, it might become more effective to focus counter-drone efforts on intelligence, and supply chain disruption that represent (even if in different forms) tools and pathways available to both the military and the civilian world.

October 30, 2023No Comments

Violence against women in the cyber domain – the impact of covid and what still needs to be done?

Author: Maria Makurat (Human Rights Team), with a contribution from Julia Hodgins (Culture, Society & Security Team)


Physical violence against women is a topic that is being addressed by several institutions and organizations but what about the cyber domain? Cyber violence is not a new concept but the coronavirus pandemic has brought about new challenges and one has even seen a surge of the issue. This was discussed by UN Women in a report stating that the Covid pandemic had an impact on online harassment. This drew attention to women experiencing online harassment which can have lasting detrimental effects. This article explores the developing issue of violence against women in the cyber-domain by first considering various definitions to then highlighting case studies by looking at reports, literature and case studies in order to suggest possible questions that remain.

Defining violence against women in the cyber domain

Firstly, one needs to define what violence against women in the cyber domain entails. In the past years, there have been several definitions by scholars, institutions and organizations. It makes it challenging since what exactly do “aggression” and “violence” such as “hate speech” in the cyber domain mean? The discourse surrounding finding a definition of online gender-based violence shows that a strong debate exists however, as technology evolves, wider definitions are needed to include all forms of online violence.

When considering violence against women in the cyber-domain, then one automatically wonders what is “violent” in this case? Traditional international relations theories surrounding violence have been around for a while. Finlay for instance points out that one should not only consider “violence” by itself but extend it to “violent agency” with the following components: “defined first by a double intention (1) to inflict harm using a technique chosen (2) to eliminate or evade the target’s means of escaping it or defending against it. Second, the harms it aims at are destructive (as opposed to appropriative).”  

Looking further at “aggression” and “violence” in relation to cyber, defining said terms has its challenges. "Defining “aggression” is a complex, in and itself controversial endeavour, as it relates to a tense exchange between at least two actors. Complexity grows as, increasingly often, aggressions become invisible - or blurry at the very least. Complications keep growing when the subject is situated in the scope of gender relations. Still now worldwide, at varying degrees, physical violence against women remains officialised, i.e., state violence exerted by the Iranian Moral Police to ‘rein in’ female transgressors is legal and inconsequential. Complications exponentially increase when translating gender relations into cyberspace, due to both inherent challenges of cyberspace (obscureness, non-territoriality/territoriality, low threshold for entry and exit, easy concealment) and the assumption of cyber being at least gender-neutral, if not male-dominated by default. Nevertheless, constructivism suggests that security is not neutral as social factors (ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, class, etc.) allocate power, and power between actors underpins exchanges, particularly aggressions. To define aggression, exchanges are often de-constructed, and contrasted to a threshold set under the influence of power stances, perceived vulnerabilities, and mindsets about the actors in question."(contribution by Julia Hodgins).

There seems to be growing concern about online violence against female journalists and a need for guidelines on how to monitor, and evaluate this issue. This can be highlighted by looking at the recent guidelines and a report published by the OSCE in 2023 which provides a definition of what exactly “gender-based online violence” in relation to female journalists means: “sexist and misogynistic involving frequently threats of physical and/or sexual violence; sexualized abuse and harassment; digital privacy and security breaches that can expose identifying information and exacerbate offline safety threats facing the target; and networked or mob harassment.” (…) often bound with gendered disinformation.” Furthermore, the OSCE identifies eight features of gender-based online violence: misogynistic, frequently networked, it radiates, it is intimate, it can be extreme, behave like ‘networked gaslighting’, extreme in intersectional discrimination and contains disinformation.

Looking at definitions discussed by scholars, Lews, Rowe and Wiper looked at the issue from a criminology point of view stating that there are gaps in the literature and a “failure to develop a robust gendered analysis, a lack of comparative analysis of online and offline VAWG and a lack of victimological examination of online abuse experienced by women and girls.” A press release by the European Council in November 2021 stated again, that one needs clearer definitions of what online gender-based violence means in order to then have more concise laws put in place. The recommendation states that one should define the issue as “the digital dimension of violence against women.”

The latest definition by UN Women defines online-violence against women as follows: “Technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TF GBV) is any act that is committed, assisted, aggravated or amplified by the use of information communication technologies or other digital tools which results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological, social, political or economic harm or other infringements of rights and freedoms.” Notably this definition extends the scope in order to include any act in relation to online violence.

As one can see, definitions are still being worked out and this is also an essential process when wanting to put stronger laws in place. States need international definitions in order to also have joint measurements against online violence. In the following, case studies of online violence will be highlighted to discuss the still pressing-issue.

Case studies of online-violence and future concerns

The issue of violence against women in the cyber-domain started very early and continues to be a growing threat and pressing issue today. Gurumurthy and Menon highlighted the said issue in 2009. They point out women (in India for example) having been filmed during rape and then posted on social-media platforms in order to maintain the cycle of violence. Another issue they discuss is that women have committed suicide in Kerala as a result of online harassment causing a stir in discussions.

UN Women released a report in 2015, stating that urgent action needs to be taken in order to combat violence against women in the cyber domain. The report calls out the failure of implementing sustainable goals and achievements in reducing online violence against women and proposes that one needs better sanctions, a sensitization by implementing trainings and campaigns to change social attitudes as well as a more responsible internet infrastructure. Despite these reports, one has seen a significant impact of the corona pandemic on online violence against women. Reports have shown that women experience an increasing amount of online violence: “Cyber harassment and cyberbullying have increased by 50% during quarantine in Australia. Simultaneously, the United Kingdom data shows that the number of complaints about visual sexual harassment doubled in March 2020.”

Source: Photo by Joshua Gandara on Unsplash

Online violence against women is very complex and many factors play a role which means, tackling the issue needs sustainable goals that also address several factors. There is growing concern about violence against women working in politics or other public sectors. Women who express their opinions online very often receive violent threats and are coerced into retreating from the public sector and keeping a low profile. Articles and reports state that there is even a concern about women retreating from the political sector. Moreover, there seems to be a relation between crisis and gender-based violence and the consummation of online porn. The Government Equalities Office has released research on the relation between pornography use and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviors.  The reports come to the conclusion that pornography is one of the factors that “contribute to a permissive and conducive context that allows harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours to exist against women and girls.” 

If one has been developing better definitions and implanting debates, then why does the issue continue to be a growing concern? These concerns and trends show that one needs stronger initiatives, sanctions, and focused debates to tackle the issue at hand. In the following, it will be briefly highlighted what projects have been launched to tackle online violence.

What are some initiatives?

UN Women launched 2020 a project called “Fireflies Campaign against Gender-Based Cyber Violence.” The campaign specifically addressed the issue of online gender-based violence during the coronavirus pandemic and had the goal to specifically use social media to draw attention to the issue and engage the public in the discourse. One of the key findings was that more women (81%) than men (70%) reported online harassment cases.

One major step that has been taken is the UK’s reform of online violence. A press release by The Government of the UK from the 23rd of June 2023 states: “Abusers who share intimate images without consent to face up to 6 months in prison.” Also, deepfakes were criminalized for the first time which has to be considered for future debate: “For the first time, sharing of ‘deep fake’ intimate images – explicit images of videos which have been digitally manipulated to look like someone else – will also be criminalized.” The reform has the goal to facilitate the prosecution of individuals who publish intimate images without consent. Now it would be the question if other states will follow suit in placing stricter laws against cyber violence. For instance, Germany doesn’t have a specific law against cyber violence yet. They include the offences in the general law of insult or threats. 

In countries such as Rwanda and Tanzania, women increasingly (have to) use the internet for work. This has also increased violence against women in the cyber-domain and calls for the need for better laws and safer realms. An initiative called Women@web helps “journalists, politicians, and human rights activists, among others, who have been confronted with various forms of gender-based online violence.” It is stated again that ever since the corona pandemic, they have seen an increase in online violence. Furthermore, studies conducted by Women@web have found out that women often censor their own comments online to avoid “cyberbullying”. In order to tackle this, Women@web offers modules on: “digital rights, digital citizenship, digital platforms, digital security, digital storytelling and digital resilience. Focusing on these topics, regular training sessions are held for women in the four countries. The aim is to increase the overall digital literacy among women and empower them to remain in online spaces.” 


These initiatives already draw a lot of attention to the issue at hand however, many questions remain such as whether the UK reform will bring other states to follow suit. Also, social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have started becoming stricter in their policies on what people can comment on and what not. Search engines track whether someone posts explicit language or sends explicit images. These are all measures that show steps in the right direction however the question remains, when a new crisis comes (such as the corona pandemic) will it contribute to another surge of online violence? Online violence against women is not a recent new topic but a steady emergent issue. With growing technology, women on the one hand have more access to online help lines and initiatives but on the other hand, are facing new threats such as AI in relation to ‘deepfakes’. This calls for stronger sanctions and perhaps more focused campaigns launched towards a young audience to educate on this issue and its repercussions.

October 28, 2023No Comments

From Knowing to the Impossibility of Not Knowing’ – Imposing International Criminal Responsibility on Human Combatants for War Crimes Committed by Autonomous Weapons

Author: Vendela Laukkanen - AI, Cyber Security & Space Team


The United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on States ‘to take decisive action now to protect humanity’, referring to the threat posed by autonomous weaponssystems (AWS).1 The joint call further referred to the restrictions on certain weapons under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and elucidated the accountability of States and individuals for any violations, since impunity threatens peace and security.2 This post will focus on the latter: the principal criminal responsibility of individuals when the acts of an AWS result in war crimes. The discussion will be twofold: the ethical concern of who will bear responsibility in such a scenario, followed by the legal dilemma of an ‘accountability gap’3 in front of the International Criminal Court(ICC). The definition of AI weapons for the purpose of this discussion is:

‘Any weapon system with autonomy in its critical functions—that is, a weapon system that can select… and attack… targets without human intervention’.4

Ethical Dilemma

To maintain peace and security, responsibility for the most egregious breaches of IHL is crucial, the bearers of such has thus far been human combatants.5 The purpose of criminal responsibility is firstly to ‘deter future violations’6, and secondly, to ensure justice for victims. In the case of AWS, the question is where such responsibility ought to be placed to satisfy both factors of criminal responsibility (deterrence and justice): the manufacturer that produced the machine; the combatant deploying the weapon; or the AWS itself?

Proponents of AWS argue that a machine will be better equipped than a human to distinguish between military targetsand civilian persons/objects7, it could thus be presumed that if the AWS strikes indiscriminately it is due to a malfunctioning of the system and the manufacturer ought to be responsible. However, as Sparrow claims, if the risk of mistargeting has been acknowledged to the person deploying the weapon, or, if the weapon has sufficient autonomy to act outside of the initial programming, to hold the manufacturer accountable ‘would be analogous to holding parents responsible for the actions of their children once they have left their care’.8 The second scenario - holding the combatant that deployed the weapon responsible is neither unproblematic, as Sparrow points out, the distinguishing factor of AWS to other weapons is its ability to choose its targets independently of human control, thus imposing responsibility on the combatant would be unfair.9 However, the human deploying the weapon ought to be aware of its autonomous nature -that the machine can be involved in mistargeting is therefore a foreseeable risk, leading to the argument that the combatant accepts that risk when deciding to deploy the AWS. The final scenario is to impose responsibility on the weapon itself. It must therefore be possible to punish the machine and, as Sparrow claims, make it suffer - the purpose of punishment.10 Whether a machine is able to suffer and feel remorse in a way consistent with the human idea of ‘justice has been done’, refrain from repeating the behaviour and to deter other machines from committing war crimes, is highly questionable.

Legal Dilemma

The ICC’s mission - to fight impunity for the most serious crimes, risks being undermined if AWS are deployed with little to no chance (or risk) of criminal responsibility, such ‘accountability gap’ therefore threatens to increase war crimes and destabilise the laws of war.11 If we are to retain morality in war - the most plausible solution is to hold the combatant deploying the AWS responsible for grave IHL breaches, as with any other weapon. Criminal Law requires proof of mens rea (‘guilty mind’) and actus reus (‘guilty act’). The Rome Statute of the ICC requires intention and knowledge as the default mens rea12 and the war crime of ‘intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population…’13 relates to the IHL rule of distinction. A combatant who intentionally and knowingly deploys an AWS incapable of functioning lawfully would be clear-cut under the ICC regime, - but the combatant deploying the AWS with the lack of knowledge and intention (acts with dolus eventualis) to attack civilian targets bestrides the accountability gap.14 However, a probative practice that allows a mental element to be inferred from conduct and circumstances with no reasonable alternative exposition15 may provide a solution. Indeed, ICC case law appears to suggest that intent:

‘...may be inferred from various factors establishing that civilians… were the object of the attack…16; and:

‘...lack of discrimination or precaution in attack may constitute an attack against civilian targets…17


This is also evident in the case law of other international tribunals18. As stated by the Court itself ‘…it must beestablished that in the circumstances… a reasonable person could not have believed that the individual or group… attacked was… directly participating in hostilities’19, thus shifting the mens rea analysis from the subjective state of mind of the combatant, to the objective standard of what the reasonable person must have known of the civilian status in the circumstances.20 The accountability gap is therefore mitigated by establishing that it was impossible for the combatant not to have known of the civilian status of the targets, and the combatant that still deploys the AWS must therefore have intended the attack, ‘from knowing to the impossibility of not knowing’21.


This post has attempted to briefly discuss the ethical; and legal dilemmas of AI used in warfare. Whilst no simple answers exist, it is clear that if autonomous weapons are to be used in times of armed conflict - humans with the moral capacity to suffer and feel remorse must be the bearers of responsibility for war crimes. The accountability gap may be mitigated by allowing a dolus eventualis mens rea standard at the ICC, which finds support in the case law. After all, the lack of possibility of holding humans criminally responsible for war crimes committed by AWS, calls into question whether the international community is ready to abandon the laws of war and the last 25 years of fighting impunity for the most serious crimes.

1 ICRC ‘Joint Call by the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross for States toestablish new prohibitions and restrictions on Autonomous Weapons Systems’ (, 05 October 2023) < s> accessed 12October 2023.

2 ibid.

3 Davison, N., ‘A legal perspective: Autonomous weapon systems under international humanitarian law’ (2017) No. 30 UNODA OccasionalPapers 16.

4 ibid 5.

5 See also: Davison, N., ‘A legal perspective: Autonomous weapon systems under international humanitarian law’ (2017) No. 30 UNODAOccasional Papers 19.

6 ICRC ‘Joint Call by the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross for States to establishnew prohibitions and restrictions on Autonomous Weapons Systems’ (, 05 October 2023) < s> accessed 12October 2023.

7 Dawes, J., ‘The case for and against autonomous weapon systems’ (2017) 1(9) Nature Human Behaviour 613.

8 Sparrow, R., ‘Killer Robots’ (2007) 24(1) Journal of Applied Philosophy 70.

9 ibid 71.

10 ibid 72.

11 See also: Dawes, J., ‘The case for and against autonomous weapon systems’ (2017) 1(9) Nature Human Behaviour 614.

12 Rome Statute Art. 30.

13 Rome Statute Arts. 8(2)(b)(i), 8(2)(b)(ii) and 8(2)(e)(i).

14 See also: Davison, N., ‘A legal perspective: Autonomous weapon systems under international humanitarian law’ (2017) No. 30 UNODA Occasional Papers 16; Abhimanyu, G., ‘Autonomous cyber capabilities and individual criminal responsibility for war crimes’ (2021) AutonomousCyber Capabilities Under International Law 8.

15 See also: Abhimanyu, G., ‘Autonomous cyber capabilities and individual criminal responsibility for war crimes’ (2021) Autonomous CyberCapabilities Under International Law 10.

16 Katanga trial judgment (n 35) para 807.

17 Ntaganda trial judgment (n 35) para 921.

18 Prosecutor v Dragomir Milošević (TC) [2007] International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia IT98-29/1-T [948]. See also, Prosecutor v Stanislav Galić (AC) [2006] International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia IT-98-29-A [132]; Prosecutor v Tihomir Blaškić (TC) [2000] International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia IT-95-14-T [501–12].

19 Ntaganda trial judgment (n 35) para 921.

20 Abhimanyu, G., ‘Autonomous cyber capabilities and individual criminal responsibility for war crimes’ (2021) Autonomous Cyber CapabilitiesUnder International Law 14.

21 Ibid 15.

October 23, 2023No Comments

Mr. Saji Prelis on Youth, Peace and Security

Mr. Saji Prelis talks about Youth, Peace and Security. Mr. Saji Prelis is the Director of children & youth programs at Search for Common Ground (SFCG).

In this session, Mr. Prelis talks about how the agenda first started, why Resolution 2250 is considered historic and the efforts that have led to it. He also discusses what challenges the efficient implementation of the YPS agenda are today and ends sharing tips for youth activists for their advocacy on youth-inclusion and YPS in their work.

Interviewer: Balkis Chaabane, Human Security Team

October 17, 2023No Comments

Ecuador’s Dangerous Crossroads: Gangs, Trafficking Pathways and Future Perspectives

Authors: Shams Jouve and Isabelle Despicht - Crime, Terrorism and Extremism Team

Ecuador making headlines: brutal assassinations and increased gang violence

As of today, Ecuador is ranked as the least safe country in Latin America, finding itself in the midst of a  bloody turf war, with soaring violence linked to organised crime, civil unrest as well as drug trafficking. Just a glance at the crime rate of 2021 paints a sobering picture of Ecuador's current state of affairs, revealing an alarming 79.79% increasecompared to the previous year. Fast forward to 2023, homicide rates, too, are set to increase up to 40 per 100,000 individuals.

This surge in violence was accompanied by the assassination of at least six political figures, including presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, whose death made headlines in August 2023. The murder of Villavicencio, who previously worked as an investigative journalist and uncovered corruption cases in the country, serves as a potent symbol of the growing influence of gangs and their willingness to assert dominance and territorial control in Ecuador.

How have Ecuador's geographical location and institutional weaknesses contributed to criminal influence?  

Ecuador's geographical features have long played a role in shaping trafficking routes in the region. Ecuadorian ports represent key transit points for drugs, which are then shipped to Europe and the United States. Laura Lizarazo, senior analyst for the Andean region at political risk consultancy Control Risks, explains: "The market is flooded with cocaine and criminal organisations are adapting to explore this over-production". Equally, Ecuador represents an ideal transhipment point for both human trafficking and illegal arms trade

For decades, Ecuador was shielded from cocaine-related violence that plagued many other countries in Latin America. This was the result of various factors, among others, an agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), one of the most active armed groups in the Andes region. The FARC, a Marxist guerrilla group founded in 1961, underwent extensive shifts to finally become involved with the drug trade in Latin America in the 1990s. By 2016, it controlled a staggering 60% of the world's most productive coca crops.

Despite the aforementioned, the Ecuadorian government remained engaged with the FARC in the 2000s and 2010s. Meanwhile, the 21st century observed a phenomenal expansion of illegal trafficking and Ecuadorian gangs' influence in the area. Initially mainly governed by Mexican and Colombian cartels and mafia groups, working with local criminal entities as intermediaries, the country slowly became a key transhipment point for illegal trafficking.

New players, such as Chinese mafias in the case of human smuggling, emerged. Local criminal groups gained considerable power and organisational capabilities, including control over a considerable part of the prison system, and gang violence led to several prison massacres and an unprecedented homicide rate.

Another significant obstacle is the emergence of protection rackets, which arose out of prison gangs empowered by police intelligence. These illicit webs thrive at developing patronage networks by establishing connections with the government and accessing its resources. They frequently enlist public officials and coerce them, reaping benefits from state dismantlement. Amongst others, they have been recognised for their role in disseminating prison intelligence to purposely misinform the public

Amid the aforementioned, several government policies over the last decades have participated in declining criminal activity through social inclusion, police reform, and innovative approaches to criminal justice, including the legalisation of several local gangs. However, public institutions remain weakened by endemic corruption, facilitating criminal activities and compromising state integrity.

The state's inability to monopolise the use of legitimate violence, along with its lack of transparency, has highly damaged public trust in authorities. This further compounds the already challenging economic situation, which fuelled a series of protests over a cost of living crisis in summer 2022. 

While all these challenges exist, Ecuador currently aims to build a robust and adequate legal framework to tackle organised crime through local, interstate and transnational cooperation. Nevertheless, implementing such legislation appears to be a significant challenge due to insufficient resources and the lack of independence of Ecuador's judiciary


A wake-up call for Ecuador’s democracy

Juan Papier, Human Rights Watch's acting deputy director for the Americas, considers Villavicencio's death to be  "a wakeup call for Ecuador's democracy". Indeed, strong security policies are needed to reinforce public authorities and tackle transnational organised crime.

As part of the Global Programme on Implementing the Organized Crime Convention, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) currently works with Ecuador representatives to establish a National Strategy against organised crime. This partnership aims to reinforce international cooperation and local coordination between representatives of various Ecuadorian institutions. Moreover, the Republic collaborated with the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) "Ecuador SinCero Programme" to tackle Corruption Prevention, Transparency and Citizen Participation between January 2020 and June 2023. This cooperation programme articulated various initiatives, mainly focusing on Public Integrity and the Open Government Model.

Conclusive remarks 

While it seems certain that crime and violence rates are still set to rise, recent political events, including Fernando Villavicencio’s assassination, could well represent a pivotal moment for Ecuador. However, to stand ground on these incredibly difficult challenges, measures tackling rampant corruption and promoting judicial independence, transparency and the accountability of perpetrators are needed. 

To that end, it is in Ecuador’s interest to seek international guidance in building an effective National Strategy against Transnational Organised Crime and strengthen its collaboration with neighbouring countries. Yet, international cooperation can only complement guidance and concrete domestic efforts. Governmental initiatives must improve public sector management and emphasise civic education and engagement. 

In addition, more effective measures should be implemented concerning the protection of local whistleblowers, which still fall short of adequate reporting mechanisms, as demonstrated by the case of Julio Rogelio Viteri Ungaretti v Ecuador, brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), in which a member of the Ecuadorian military suffered reprisals for noting irregularities, including acts of corruption within the Armed Forces. 

Nevertheless, reducing corruption, strengthening the domestic legal system, improving public sector management, and promoting education and citizen participation will certainly not prove enough to the immense task of strengthening Ecuador’s institutions. Change needs to come from within. Ecuador has an inherent interest in innovating and coming up with solutions that truly allow for this change to be sustainable. Perhaps it could in the future explore the avenues brought by emerging technologies, which may be used, for instance, to reduce human interaction and control corruption within administrative processes.

October 4, 2023No Comments

The tension between China and the US also has an impact on the technological world

Author: Francesco Cirillo - U.S. Team

Washington and Beijing have planned strategies to increase semiconductor production with the advent of Artificial Intelligence. For this reason, Washington is somewhat concerned about China's chip production capabilities; the concern increased after the unveiling of the new Mate 60 Pro smartphone by Huawei. The chip component of this product is unique: in fact, semiconductor companies in Beijing and the People's Republic produce them entirely. US analysts think this demonstrates Beijing's technological capabilities and China's ability to become independent in technology production.

It is crucial for many companies, particularly Nvidia, to maintain a steady relationship with the People's Republic; this is a different view for the US government. To slow the growth of the industry, especially the development of the artificial intelligence field, the White House, Congress, and the defence and intelligence apparatuses should implement a containment strategy in the supply chain of the semiconductor industry. The New York Times states that China has used artificial intelligence tools, in particular, to pursue disinformation actions. This, according to Microsoft researchers, indicates that Beijing is eager to use generative AI to produce images and disseminate them online to apply disinformation actions.

For Beijing, one of the ways China could obtain the resources to compete with the US in that area is through the technology race. In a recent report translated by the CSIS (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CCP, 2023), At the Seventh Collective Study Session of the CCP Central Committee Politburo, Xi Jinping Emphasized Comprehensively Strengthening Military Governance and Using High-Standard Governance to Promote High- Quality Military Development [习近平在中共中央政治局第七次集 体学习时强调 全面加强军事治理 以高水平治理推动我军高质量发展]. Interpretation: China (originally published 2023), a working group of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, outlines guidelines for the integration of HiTech tools into the Chinese armed forces.


Beijing recently announced the launch of a new approximately USD 40 billion investment fund intending to support the industrial growth of technology companies. The contention between the People's Republic of China and the US has also affected the artificial intelligence sector. The US is trying to impose restrictions on US companies operating and selling technology products to Chinese companies to hinder China's access to the industrial chain.

The Semiconductor Industry Association has stated that China will purchase chips and semiconductors worth around $180 billion in 2022 and only a few companies, including Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm, have a significant relationship with Beijing. These companies are the only ones authorised by the US authorities to sell chips for Huawei's smartphones. In an economic and technological competition that Washington hopes will limit China's growth and development in the HiTech sector, further trade conflicts could also hurt US companies themselves.