Back to the United Nations in New York

Back to the United Nations in New York

Representatives from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots will be in New York on 20-21 October to talk to government representatives and other United Nations (UN) delegates as well as media and the public about their concerns over fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots” and the need for government action.

No formal decisions will be taken on the weapons at the UN meetings, but nations may use the occasion to make statements expressing their views on the concerns that have been raised and may indicate their position on whether international talks on the matter should continue next year.

Each October, two UN General Assembly committees meet which are relevant to international efforts to address fully autonomous weapons:

  • The First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, which will consider and likely adopt without vote an annual resolution on the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva, which held the first talks on “lethal autonomous weapons systems” in May 2014. In their statements, nations may comment on the decision that must be taken at the next annual meeting of the CCW on 14 November on whether to continue deliberations on the weapons in 2015. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is scheduled to deliver a plenary statement at First Committee on Tuesday, 28 October at 3:00pm.
  • The Third Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Rights will consider and likely adopt a triennial resolution to renew the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Professor Christof Heyns, who wrote a 2013 report calling on all nations enact a moratorium on “lethal autonomous robots.” This led to the first Human Rights Council debate on the matter in May 2013. Heyns is scheduled to address the Third Committee on 22 October at 3:00pm.

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots representatives are speaking at the following events:

  • 20 October @ 10:00am: Background briefing for interested media by Campaign to Stop Killer Robots representatives at the New School (media only – see the advisory and register for location details)
  • 20 October @ 6:00pm: Public talk on media advocacy for humanitarian disarmament by Campaign to Stop Killer Robots representatives including Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams at The New School (free – no registration required) – Flyer
  • 21 October @ 1:00pm: UN briefing on concerns over fully autonomous weapons by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots at the UN (registered UN delegates only

Statements

We are monitoring all statements made at the 2014 session of the UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security for references to killer robots. By 23 October when the debate on conventional weapons concluded, at least 20 nations had expressed their views with almost all expressing clear support for continued deliberations on fully autonomous weapons at the Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva. Several groups of nations supported further talks, notably the Non-Aligned Movement and African Group. Bulgaria and Finland spoke on the matter for the first time.

Africa Group – delivered by Nigeria (7 October)
The African Group seeks to raise the lingering question of autonomous weapons. The manufacture of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) is a threshold that raises ethical, legal, moral and technical issues in relation to international humanitarian and international human rights laws. We commend the efforts of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to broadly address this issue and urge Member States to remain seized with this matter. 

Arab Group (22 October)

European Union (21 October)
With a view of strengthening international humanitarian law, the EU remains firmly committed to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and its Protocols, which provides a unique forum to gather diplomatic, legal and military expertise, and to address emerging issues. We believe that these instruments also constitute an effective means to respond in a flexible way to future developments in the field of weapons technology, and above all, represent an essential part of International Humanitarian Law. For the EU, universalization of the CCW and its Protocols is an issue of high importance. We stress also the importance of compliance with the provisions of the Convention and its annexed Protocols. We welcome the constructive discussions during the informal meeting of experts on the technical, ethical, legal, operational and military aspects of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems held in Geneva earlier this year. Those exchanges helped to lay the ground for a better common understanding of the issue, with a view to possible further discussions. We look forward to the next meeting of the High Contracting Parties in November for further consideration of this issue.

Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) – delivered by Indonesia (7 October)
NAM is of the view that Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) raise a number of ethical, legal, moral and technical, as well as international peace and security related questions which should be thoroughly deliberated and examined in the context of conformity to international law including international humanitarian law and international human rights law. In this regard, NAM States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) welcome the informal meeting of CCW experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems held in Geneva from 13-16 May 2014 and support continued deliberations on this issue in the CCW on the basis of an agreed mandate. NAM States Parties to CCW welcome the accession of Iraq to the Convention and its annexed protocols.

Australia (22 October)
The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons demonstrated this year its continued relevance as a multilateral mechanism to explore emerging issues related to conventional weapons that are excessively injurious or have indiscriminate effects. We welcome the informal meeting of experts held in May this year to discuss questions related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems, and support continuation of such discussion.

Austria (13 October)
The development of lethal autonomous weapon systems touches upon fundamental questions of ethics that have to be confronted. The potential of such weapon systems for lowering the threshold to resort to force, for proliferation to irresponsible users, and for the instigation for new arms race, pose a risk for international peace and stability. Strong doubts remain about the possibility of LAWS’s compliance with intenational law. We therefore welcome the discussions that have been launched in the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and call for a continued debate in the relevant UN fora in an inclusive way. with the participation of experts and civil society more broadly.

Bulgaria (23 October)
My country is firmly committed to the principles and objectives of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and its Protocols, which provide an effective multilateral platform for responding to present and future developments of weapons technology. In this regard, we see great merit in the informal expert discussions on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems in the framework of CCW

Cuba (22 October)
Tenemos serias dudas sabre la posibilidad real de que al emplearse sistemas de armas letales autonomas, se pueda garantizar el cumplimiento y la observancia de las normas y principios del Derecho Internacional Humanitario. Con el uso de estas armas, la asimetria entre paises ricos y pobres se hace mas marcada, pues solo los Estados desarrollados pueden permitirse tan costosa tecnologia. Se hace necesario continuar debatiendo sabre este tema con el fin de adoptar un instrumento juridicamente vinculante, en el marco de Naciones Unidas o de la Convencion de Ciertas Armas Convencionales, para prohibir las armas autonomas, incluso antes de que las mismas comiencen a utilizarse.

Czech Republic (23 October)
The Czech Republic reiterates its strong support for the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). … An important issue of this year’s CCW agenda, lethal autonomous weapons systems proved the relevance and flexibility of the Convention on new emerging areas of weapons systems. The Czech Republic sees the merit in continuing the discussion on different aspects of the LAWS in 2015.

Ecuador (9 October)
Lethal autonomous weapons raise humanitarian, moral, and legal concerns and should be preemptively banned. [Synposis from Spanish original]

Ecuador (23 October)
Mi pais considera que la comunidad internacional debe profundizar el debate alrededor de los Vehlculos Aereos No tripulados y de los sistemas de armas autonomas letales. EI desarrollo de nuevas tecnologlas belicas que excluyen la participacion y responsabilidad de los seres humanos en la toma de decisiones hace urgente una discusion seria de la comunidad internacional sobre estos nuevos problemas en el campo de las armas convencionales, por 10 que saludamos la reunion mantenida sobre este tema en Ginebra en el marco de la Convencion sobre ciertas armas convencionales en mayo del presente ano. En este contexte debe senalar que el Ecuador es parte de los cinco Protocolos de la Convencion sobre ciertas armas convencionales, incluyendo el Protocolo II enmendado y la enmienda al articulo primero.

Finland (22 October)
Finland welcomes the initial discussions on lethal autonomous weapons systems within the CCW. It is clear that discussions are needed in the future. The complex issue requires further clarification and further convergence of opinions.

France (8 October)
There is other great progress worthy of mention. In the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), we undertook a forward-looking discussion on the issue of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). That demonstrates the vitality and relevance of the CCW and its ability to tackle emerging subjects. I am proud to have chaired the Meeting of Experts dedicated to the issue in May. The discussions are making good progress and convergences are possible. France would like this work to continue and I will advocate that in November during the meeting of the High Contracting Parties.

France (22 October)
2014 was also marked by discussions held in the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), regarding lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). The mandate adopted last November allowed us to hold four days of substantive debate on this emerging issue. The meeting helped to look in greater depth at the technical, legal, ethical and operational aspects of LAWS. I am proud to have chaired these debates that showed that the CCW can tackle the challenges of the future. France will support a renewal of the mandate for another meeting of experts in 2015 during the meeting of the High Contracting Parties to be held next month.

India (7 October)
India attaches importance to the CCW process and the continued consideration, from the perspectives of the objectives and perspectives of the Convention, issues pertaining to Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems.

India (22 October)
India participated in CCW Expert Level meeting on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) in May this year and supports continued discussions in the CCW in 2015 as per an agreed mandate. We feel that LAWS should assessed not just from the view point of their compatibility with international law including international humanitarian law but also on their impact on international security if there is dissemination of such weapon systems. We would like the CCW process to emerge strengthened from these discussions, resulting in increased systemic controls on international armed conflicts embedded in international law in a manner that does not widen the technology gap amongst states or encourage the use of lethal force to settle international disputes just because it affords the prospects of lesser casualties to one side or that its use can be shielded from the dictates of public conscience.

Ireland (23 October)
The mandate of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and its Protocols is to regulate or ban the use of specific categories of conventional weapons that have effects which trouble the conscience of humanity. The drafters of the Additional Protocol to the 1977 Geneva Convention recognized that constant evolution and technological progress would require also constant responsibility to ensure that new weapons, means and methods of warfare are not in violation of relevant international law, including international humanitarian law.

My delegation considers that the four-day meeting of experts convened by States party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva in May, provided an important opportunity to explore the fundamental legal, ethical and societal issues raised by one such possible advancement, lethal autonomous weapon systems. The debate on lethal
autonomous weapons reaches far beyond legal and technical complexities, raising fundamental questions about the role of humans in taking lethal decisions in armed conflict. The decisive question may very well be whether such weapons are acceptable under the principles of humanity, and if so under what conditions. We look forward to the meeting of
the CCW High Contracting Parties this November where we look forward to continuing this important discussion.

Japan (22 October)
Japan recognizes the growing interests in the international community regarding the issues of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS), and commends the leadership of France in the previous session which deepened our understanding on this issue through a lively exchange of views. We support the continuation of a discussion in order to identify future tasks about basic elements related to those weapons. Japan looks forward to participating in the discussion with other interested States, research institutes and civil society.

Netherlands (22 October)
The CCW expert meeting on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems in May this year proved to be an excellent first exchange of views on this new and important subject. We find it very positive that this is a concerted effort by both states and civil society. From the discussions it is clear that there are many legal, ethical and policy questions regarding LAWS for which we are only beginning to find answers. These questions do not however exist only for LAWS, but also for enhanced autonomous functions of weapons systems in general.

International law and in particular International Humanitarian Law is the framework we lookat with regard to the legality of weapon systems. While developing new weapon systems, both LAWS as well as weapon systems with more advanced autonomous functions in general, states should remain within the boundaries of international law. A particular issue that needs to be discussed further is what we exactly mean by ‘meaningful human control’ when we talk about weapons systems. The Netherlands intends to start a multiyear research program to develop our own national perspective on this issue. We should also deepen our understanding of the related ethical issues. Meaningful Human Control could be a very relevant subject of our CCW-meeting on topic in 2015. We will continue to participate actively in discussions on LAWS and will advocate strongly for a new mandate at the upcoming Meeting of States Parties in November to be able to continue our discussions within the framework of the CCW.

Pakistan (22 October)
Another Disturbing trend is the development of new types of weapons, such as Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS). LAWS are rightly being described as the next revolution in military affairs which are going to pose numerous new challenges. LAWS are by nature unethical, because there is no longer a human in the loop and the power to make life and death decisions are delegated to machines which inherently lack compassion and intuition.

LAWS will lower the threshold of going to war resulting in armed conflict no longer being a measure of last resort. LAWS will also create an accountability vacuum and provide impunity to the user due to the inability to attribute responsibility for the harm that they cause. The states that are currently developing and using LAWS cannot afford to be complacent that such capabilities will not proliferate over time and hence they too shall become vulnerable. The introduction of LAWS would be illegal, unethical, inhumane and unaccountable as well as destabilizing for international peace and security with grave consequences. Therefore, their further development and use must be pre-emptively banned, and the states currently developing such weapons should place an immediate moratorium on their production and use.

Pakistan (15 October)
Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) – that would choose and fire on pre-programmed targets on their own without any human intervention – pose a fundamental challenge to the protection of civilians and the notion of affixation of responsibility and transparency. Pakistan therefore calls for evolving international norms, rules and laws to ensure that armed drones and LAWS are only used in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations charter, international human rights and humanitarian law. Technology must follow the law and not the other way around.

Portugal (14 October)
In the field of technologically advanced new weapons as armed drones and fully autonomous lethal weapons, Portugal is in favour of enhancing international discussions on ways to better address its regulation, particularly in light of international, human rights and humanitarian law requirements.

South Africa (22 October)
The pace of scientific and technological progress in recent years has resulted in new means and methods of warfare. The issue of new and emerging technologies is one that is filled with questions and significant uncertainty as some of the technology has yet to mature. One of the key questions in this regard that should be of concern to all of us is whether these new technologies of warfare would be compliant with the rules of International Humanitarian Law, including those of distinction, proportionality and military necessity, as well as their potential impact on human rights. These questions will grow in relevance and urgency, as fast as these technologies continue to advance and develop. My delegation remains supportive of continued discussion in the CCW on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems.

South Korea (22 October)
The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) has served as an essential foundation of conventional disarmament and arms control for the past three decades, while maintaining the delicate balance between humanitarian principles and legitimate and indispensible security concerns. The CCW also serves as a dynamic instrument that responds to the new, evolving threats and urgent humanitarian challenges before us. … Finally, it is also worth noting the discussion of lethal autonomous weapons system, held for the first time within the structure of the CCW. We look forward to a balanced and equitable approach towards developing a common understanding on the relevant technology and their implications.

Sweden (23 October)
Sweden remains firmly committed to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and its protocols. We very much appreciated the opportunity at the Expert Meeting in May this year to take a first look at the questions around lethal autonomous weapon systems, LAWS. As a starting point, Sweden believes that humans should not delegate to machines the power to make life-and-death decisions in the battlefield. As States, we have an obligation to assess the legality of new weapons, and we will therefore welcome a continued discussion of this issue within the framework of the CCW.

Switzerland (8 October)
Finally the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems raises fundamental questions in many respects. We welcome the fact that discussions on the subject were started last May within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons as well as the inclusive and interactive nature of these discussions. These highlighted in particular the complexity of the subject and we are convinced that it is important to continue and intensify discussions.

Switzerland (22 October)
To conclude, the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) raises fundamental questions in many respects. We welcome the fact that discussions on this subject were started last May within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) as well as the inclusive and interactive nature of these discussions. Switzerland shares the concern expressed by several states with regard to the development of weapons systems which in their acquisition,
identification and attack of targets, including human ones, are not subject to meaningful human control. While these exchanges have enabled the subject of LAWS to be deepened, continuing our work would seem necessary, and we support the adoption of a new mandate within the framework of the CCW.

United Kingdom (23 October)
In the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) we thank France for leading a productive, informal meeting of experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems in May. This important issue sits well within the remit of the CCW and we support discussions continuing in this vein next year.

United States (22 October)
Mr. Chairman, the United States is a High Contracting Party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and all of its five Protocols. The United States attaches importance to the CCW as an instrument that has been able to bring together states with diverse national security concerns. We look forward to the annual meetings of High Contracting Parties in November and to establishing a program of work for 2015 that will allow CCW States to continue supporting the universalization of the CCW and the implementation of all its Protocols. The United States delegation was pleased with the high level of interest and wide participation in May’s informal meeting of experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). This meeting afforded CCW High Contracting Parties and observers the opportunity to identify and discuss the complex issues involved with LAWS and to begin the process of educating ourselves and each other on this subject. The United States believes it is useful to continue this discussion in the framework of the CCW. We are currently engaging with our fellow CCW High Contracting Parties to formulate an appropriate mandate for 2015. While it is still too early to determine where these discussions might or should lead, additional CCW expert discussions focused on the policy, technical, legal and operational challenges related to autonomy, and the comprehensive review of weapon systems, could support a framework under which states might address concerns related to new weapons systems that incorporate varying degrees of autonomy.

ICRC (14 October)
Finally, the ICRC wishes to address two new technologies of warfare about which there continues to be much debate internationally: autonomous weapons and cyber warfare. It should first be recalled that their development is not occurring in a legal vacuum. As with any new weapon, means or method of warfare, they must be capable of being used in accordance with international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack. However, the unique characteristics and foreseeable impact of these new technologies of warfare raise questions about whether existing legal rules are sufficiently clear.

The ICRC welcomes the increased attention the international community is paying to autonomous weapons systems, including in the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons  (CCW). In the last year, discussions about these weapons in the CCW and other forums have led to a better understanding of the technological capabilities, military intent, and legal and ethical issues raised by this new technology of warfare.

Although there is no universally accepted definition of an  ‘autonomous weapons system,’ common to all proposed definitions is the capability of independently attacking targets without human intervention. As such, in the ICRC’s view, the defining feature of autonomous weapons is autonomy in the ‘critical functions’ of searching for, identifying, selecting, and attacking targets. There is a sense that these are weapons of the far future, but increasing autonomy already exists in the ‘critical functions’ of some weapons systems in use today.

There is a danger that increasing autonomy in the critical functions of weapon systems will substitute human-decision making with that of machines, thereby posing significant legal and ethical concerns. Current technological capabilities and foreseeable developments raise serious doubts about the ability to use autonomous weapon systems in compliance with international humanitarian law in all but the narrowest of scenarios and the simplest of environments. And beyond doubts about legal compliance are fundamental concerns about the ethical and moral acceptability of allowing machines to independently take life-and-death decisions. There is a need to ensure appropriate or meaningful human control or judgement over the use of force, including the use of lethal force against human targets.

Autonomous weapons raise profound legal, ethical and societal questions for the future of warfare and of humanity and thus warrant the continued attention of States. The ICRC urges the States party to the CCW, at their annual conference in November, to extend the mandate for the discussion of autonomous weapon systems into 2015.

Campaign Delegation

Approximately 20 representatives from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are attending the UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, including:

  • Nobel Peace Laureate Ms. Jody Williams of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and other representatives of the 20 other Nobel Peace Laureates that issued a joint statement in May welcoming the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and urging an international ban on fully autonomous weapons. @JodyWilliams97 @NobelWomen
  • Clearpath Robotics Chief Technology Officer Mr. Ryan Gariepy, who drafted the statement issued by the Canadian company in August 2014 pledging not to develop or manufacture weaponized robots that remove humans from the loop. @clearpathrobots
  • Philosopher of technology Dr. Peter Asaro, vice-chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, who directs Graduate Programs at the School of Media Studies at The New School for Public Engagement. @peterasaro @icracnet
  • Mr. Richard Moyes, managing partner at Article 36, a UK-based NGO that published an influential memo in 2013 proposing a focus on meaningful human control of autonomous weapons technologies. @rjmoyes @Article36
  • Dutch humanitarian disarmament campaigner Ms. Miriam Struyk of PAX, who leads outreach efforts in the Netherlands and produced the campaign’s first short animated film.@MiriamStruyk @PAXforpeace
  • Global coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots Ms. Mary Wareham, who also serves as advocacy director for the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. @hrw @marywareham

For more information, see:

Photo: Side event briefing by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots held during last year’s session of the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security (c) Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, 21 October 2013