Killer robots: Negotiating new laws to protect humanity

  • Governments are expected to open new negotiations to legislate internationally on lethal autonomous weapon systems, also known as “killer robots”.
  • Current international law is not suited to the pressing threats posed by these weapons, which are being developed by several countries.
  • Countries should consider solutions to move forward on this issue, including that of an independent process through the United Nations General Assembly.

(Washington, December 1, 2021) – Governments should agree to open negotiations and reach a new treaty to retain effective human control over the use of force, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today . Governments will meet at the United Nations Palace in Geneva this December to decide whether to open negotiations to reach new international standards on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, also known as Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems. “Killer robots”.

The 23-page report by Human Rights Watch and l’International Human Rights Clinic (International Human Rights Law Clinic) at Harvard Law School, titled “Crunch Time on Killer Robots: Why New Law Is Needed and How It Can Be Achieved” new law and how to get there »), notes that international law should be strengthened and clarified to protect humanity from the dangers posed by lethal autonomous weapon systems. These weapons choose targets and aim them without real human control.

« After eight years of discussions on the dire consequences of abandoning human control over the use of force, countries should now decide to respond to these threats ”, said Bonnie Docherty, senior researcher in the Weapons Division at Human Rights Watch and deputy director for armed conflict and civil protection at the Harvard Human Rights Clinic. ” There is an urgent need to develop a treaty to address the gaps in international humanitarian law, and update it to address legal, ethical and societal issues related to current artificial intelligence and emerging technologies. “

The Sixth Review Conference of the Convention on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), to be held from December 13 to 17, is a critical turning point in the discussions on killer robots. At the CCAC’s last killer robot meeting in September, most countries who spoke called for the adoption of a new binding instrument on lethal autonomous weapons systems. Chile, Mexico and Brazil urged parties to the convention to agree to enter into negotiations to this end. They were joined in this by other states including the “group of 10” (Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Palestine, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone and Uruguay) and members of the Non-Movement. -aligned.

There are several possible negotiating spaces for a new treaty on lethal autonomous weapons systems: in addition to the CCAC, and among other possibilities, we can launch an independent process, like the one that led to the treaties. banning anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, or resorting to the United Nations General Assembly, where the treaty banning nuclear weapons was negotiated.

Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic argue that current international humanitarian law fails to address the challenges of lethal autonomous weapon systems. There is broad support for the idea of ​​developing a new standard and the differences of opinion reinforce the need to clarify existing standards. A new treaty would address the concerns raised by these weapon systems in terms of international humanitarian law, ethics, international human rights law, accountability and security.

To do this, it should cover weapon systems that choose and target targets based on information from sensors and not humans. Most supporters of a treaty have called for a ban on weapon systems that by their nature select and target targets without effective human intervention, such as complex systems that rely on algorithms for machine learning that produce unpredictable or inexplicable effects.

Some countries have also expressed a desire to ban weapon systems that rely on biometric profiles and other data collected by sensors that identify, select and attack people or categories of people.

Many countries are proposing to supplement these bans with regulations to ensure that all other autonomous weapon systems are only used if they are actually commanded by humans. The term “effective human control” (” meaningful human control ”) Is commonly understood as the requirement for a technology that is understandable, predictable and restricted in space and time.

It seems unlikely that the progress towards negotiations will fall within the framework of the CCAC, since this body takes its decisions by consensus and that we know the opposition of several military powers, in particular India, Russia and the United States, which believes that current international humanitarian law is sufficient to address all of the problems raised by these weapon systems. These countries, and others such as Australia, China, South Korea, Israel and Turkey are investing heavily in military applications of artificial intelligence and related technologies to design aerial autonomous weapons systems. , land and naval.

« An independent process of negotiating a new killer robot standard would be more efficient and inclusive than the ongoing diplomatic talks and other solutions being considered Bonnie Docherty said. ” But accelerating this process will only be possible with the active support of political leaders. »

Already large, the ranks of individuals, countries, institutions and private companies who repeat their desire to ban killer robots are growing. Last May, the International Committee of the Red Cross called States to negotiate an international treaty that prohibits autonomous weapons systems that are unpredictable or that target people and to adopt regulations aimed at ensuring effective human control over other systems. Since 2018, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, urges states to ban weapons that self-target and attack human beings, calling them “politically unacceptable and morally revolting ».

Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the campagne Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of over 185 non-governmental organizations from 67 countries advocating for a treaty that requires the maintenance of effective human control over the use of force and that prohibits autonomously functioning weapon systems.

« Much of this opposition is based on moral revulsion at the idea that machines can decide the life and death of people. ”Bonnie Docherty concluded. “A new treaty would make it possible to fill the international legal void with a new treaty and to protect the principles of humanity that our conscience dictates to us in the face of emerging military technologies.»


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