15 November 2013
Nations agree to take on killer robots!
Campaign to Stop Killer Robots


Photo: Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel of France
(c) Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, 15 November 2013

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots welcomes the historic decision taken by nations today to begin international discussions on how to address the challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons. The agreement marks the beginning of a process that the campaign believes should lead to an international ban on these weapons to ensure there will always be meaningful human control over targeting decisions and the use of violent force.

At 4:47pm on Friday, 15 November 2013 at the United Nations in Geneva, states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons agreed to convene on 13-16 May 2014 for their first meeting to discuss questions related to “lethal autonomous weapons systems” also known as fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots.” These weapons have not yet been developed, but technology is moving rapidly toward increasing autonomy.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots believes that robotic weapons systems should not be making life and death decisions on the battlefield. That would be inherently wrong, morally and ethically. Fully autonomous weapons are likely to run afoul of international humanitarian law, and that there are serious technical, proliferation, societal, and other concerns that make a preemptive ban necessary.

A total of 117 states are party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, including nations known to be advanced in developing autonomous weapons systems: United States, China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, and United Kingdom. Adopted in 1980, this framework convention contains five protocols, including Protocol I prohibiting non-detectable fragments, Protocol III prohibiting the use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in populated areas, and Protocol IV, which preemptively banned blinding lasers.

The agreement to begin work in the Convention on Conventional Weapons next year could lead to a future CCW Protocol VI prohibiting fully autonomous weapons.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots supports any action to urgently address fully autonomous weapons in any forum. The decision to begin work in the Convention on Conventional Weapons does not prevent work elsewhere, such as the Human Rights Council.

The agreement to begin an international process on these weapons comes just seven months after the launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a global coalition of 45 non-governmental organizations in 22 countries that is coordinated by Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch. The campaign calls for a pre-emptive and comprehensive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.

The campaign is grateful to Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel of France, President of the Convention on Conventional Weapons meeting, for his work to secure a mandate for action on fully autonomous weapons today.

Since the topic was first discussed at the Human Rights Council on 30 May 2013, more than 40 countries have spoken publicly on fully autonomous weapons since May: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Holy See, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Madagascar, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, Sierra Leone, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States. All nations that have spoken out have expressed interest and concern at the challenges and dangers posed by fully autonomous weapons.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urges nations to prepare for extensive and intensive work next year, both within the CCW and outside the CCW context.  We urge states to develop national policies, and to respond to the call by UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Prof. Christof Heyns for national moratoria on fully autonomous weapons. We urge states to come back one year from now and agree to a new mandate to begin negotiations. The new process must be underscored by  a sense of urgency.

The following spokespersons of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are available for comment on the decision to begin international work on fully autonomous weapons:

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