Launch for proposed new human right to live without physical or psychological threat from above

Gary Hughes
Picture by Shona Illingworth
Part of Shona Illingworth's 'Topologies of Air' art installation

The proposed new human right to live without physical or psychological threat from above will be formally published at an Airspace Tribunal special event at Doughty Street Chambers in London on Monday 17 June 2024.

The Airspace Tribunal was conceived and established in 2018 by artist, filmmaker and School of Arts Professor Shona Illingworth and human rights lawyer and Kent Law School Emeritus Professor Nick Grief. Its aim was to conduct a series of international public hearings to explore concerns that people globally are suffering from the expanding commercial and military exploitation of airspace and outer space and the consequences of environmental change.

The Tribunal held hearings in London, Sydney, Toronto and Berlin, with the panel of ‘judges’, all of whom were from the general public, receiving evidence from experts in artificial intelligence, geopolitics, ecocide, and indigenous and human rights, and from people with lived experience of violence from nuclear and chemical weapons, drone strikes, aerial bombardment and air toxicity.

At the end of each hearing, the ‘judges’ were invited to vote for or against the recognition of this proposed new human right, with the overwhelming response being in its favour.  It will now be presented to the United Nations, the Council of Europe and other international bodies by Professor Illingworth, Emeritus Professor Grief and colleagues during the summer 2024. The proposal will include the evidence gathered through the hearings of the Airspace Tribunal.

Those involved in the hearings included: Kirsty Brimelow KC, Doughty Street Chambers; Brett Biddington, a former member of Cisco Systems’ global space team, and a former Royal Australian Air Force officer specialising in intelligence, security and capability development; and Andreas Schüller, Director of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights’ International Crimes and Accountability program.

A special issue of the journal Digital War has been devoted to the findings from the Tribunal and responses to the proposal. Its contributors include Professor Conor Gearty KC (Hon), an expert on human rights law, terrorism and civil liberties; Lisa Ling, a whistleblower on US drone surveillance systems; neuropsychologist Professor Catherine Loveday; and Pratap Chatterjee, Executive Director, CorpWatch.

Professor Illingworth said: ‘I look forward to welcoming many of those who contributed to our international Tribunal hearings and Digital War special issue to the launch of this proposed new human right.’

‘What we are proposing is quite simply the right to live without physical and, very importantly, psychological threat from above. Our proposal recognises the psychological harm that people are subject to and that is particularly damaging when the threats are invisible and continuous. In the current legal framework, there is virtually no recognition of this psychological harm.’

Professor Illingworth’s Topologies of Air, a three-screen sound and video installation examining the impact of accelerating geopolitical, technological and environmental change on the composition, nature and use of airspace and outer space, continues to be displayed at galleries around the world.

Journalists who wish to attend should contact the University’s Press Office.