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GGE pushes decisions to critical Review Conference

Yesterday evening, 8 December 2021, the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the UN concluded its work for 2021 – finalising its report to be submitted to the 6th Review Conference of the CCW. Despite the majority of states clearly calling for the negotiation of a legally binding instrument to address the risks posed by autonomous weapons, the Group was unable to agree a way forward.

The Chair of the GGE, Ambassador Pecsteen of Belgium, had organised the diplomatic talks around a draft report endorsing a normative response with a ‘two track’ structure to address systems considered unacceptable and others needing to be regulated to ensure human control. The draft report had also proposed a new GGE in 2022 with the mandate to ‘negotiate an instrument’.

The last day of the meeting saw this substantive content removed, with a small group of states – including the US, UK, India and Russia – using the consensus rule to block any progress towards regulation. The final report of the GGE made no recommendation regarding a mandate for future work, passing the decision on to the critical upcoming 6th Review Conference of the CCW, to be held in Geneva from the 13th-17th of December, 2021.

Despite this outcome, it is clear that a majority of states stand in favour of drawing a legal and moral line around autonomy in weapons. A majority of countries from all over the world are calling for a new international framework to safeguard our rights and to ensure meaningful human control in the use of force. The UN Secretary General, the International Committee of the Red Cross, thousands of scientists, AI and robotics experts, and members of the public all echo this call.

In our final statement to the GGE, Stop Killer Robots stood behind those countries resolutely calling for a legally binding instrument: “The Stop Killer Robots campaign began life with an idea to bring people together to advocate for restraint in the development and use of autonomous weapon systems…We are all united in our commitment to achieving a new legally binding instrument and we look to you all, as representatives of the governments around the world, to reject digital dehumanization and instead, to ensure that technology is developed and used to promote peace, justice, human rights, equality and respect for law.”

All eyes turn to the critical Review Conference

For 8 years, states have contended that the CCW is the appropriate forum to respond to the moral, ethical, humanitarian, security and legal risks that killer robots pose to society. But repeatedly saying this doesn’t make it true. States must demonstrate that the CCW is the appropriate forum, by providing the necessary solutions to the risks raised by unacceptable weapons.

They still have a chance to do that. Expectations of people around the world remain high that states at the Review Conference will take the opportunity presented to them, and adopt a mandate to start negotiations of a legal instrument. This is the moment for states to work together to ensure meaningful human control over the use of force and to draw a legal and moral line against machines killing people – the ultimate form of digital dehumanisation.

For our part, Stop Killer Robots will continue to build on the foundations set in the GGE and work together towards the new legally binding instrument that the world needs.

Isabelle Jones

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