States discuss UN expert report on ‘lethal autonomous robotics’
On 30 May 2013 states discussed the issue of fully autonomous weapons for the first time in an international forum. These discussions took place at the Human Rights Council in response to a UN expert report presented by Prof. Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The UN expert report (9 April 2013, A/HRC/23/47) calls on states to put in place a moratorium on the development of ‘lethal autonomous robotics’ (LARs), to be transparent over weapons review process, and to participate in international debate on these weapons. In his presentation to the Council, Heyns warned of “mechanical slaughter” and called for a “collective pause” before further developments towards developing and deploying these weapons are pursued.
Twenty-four states participated in the discussion, welcoming with the report and the recommendation to have further discussions on these weapons due to the ethical and legal concerns that their development raises.
Algeria, Argentina (on behalf of GRULAC), Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Morocco, Mexico, Sierra Leone, and Switzerland raised serious concerns with fully autonomous weapons.
- Argentina said that it is concerned about the normalisation of conflict and an arms race that could be triggered by these weapons
- Brazil stated that robots should not make lethal decisions.
- Cuba supported the recommendation for a moratorium
- Indonesia said that LARs had
- Pakistan stated that a similar approach to that of blinding lasers – a pre-emptive ban treaty – is also needed in response to LARs as well
- Morocco said that giving de facto the right to kill human beings to machines needs to be examined for human rights requirements
- Mexico said that legal accountability is needed for LARs, and regulation is needed
- Sierra Leone raised questions over accountability and responsibility and called for a moratorium
- Switzerland said that in no circumstances should states delegate the use of lethal force
A number of states expressed their willingness to have further discussions on these weapons including Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the United States, and the European Union. Some states suggested that an arms control forum might be more appropriate to tackle this issue, and Brazil and France specifically suggested that the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons should look at these weapons.
The European Union stated that existing law (IHL) is sufficient to deal with autonomous weapon systems, but called for discussion on this topic to take place in another UN forum focused on arms control.
The UK stated that it was not supportive of a moratorium or prohibition and that it believed that existing international law is sufficient. The UK was the only state to reject this recommendation, isolating itself in the debate, including amongst close allies such as the US, France and Germany.
The UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA) stated that history has shown that we must not wait until a weapons system is in place before addressing the issue, as the case with blinding lasers and highlighted the need to address weapons from a humanitarian perspective as well.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots intervened to welcome the recommendation in the report for a moratorium and further discussions and called on states to negotiate an international treaty to ban fully autonomous weapons.
Ahead of the presentation of the report in the Human Rights Council, the campaign held a briefing for media and a separate event for governments. Presentations by Steve Goose of HRW and Peter Asaro of ICRAC highlighted the need for meaningful human control over the operation of weapon systems and, fundamentally, the need for human control over each individual strike.