Growing support for a ban on killer robots

December 19, 2016

Next year, governments will take an important step toward regulating so-called killer robots. At the review conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) last week at the United Nations in Geneva, 89 countries voted to convene a group of governmental experts to discuss regulating these weapons. PAX sees this as an important step toward negotiating a comprehensive ban on these types of weapons.

“While we speak about future systems and continue to have informal debates, we run the risk that future plans become today’s systems,” says PAX’s policy expert Miriam Struyk, who delivered a statement at the conference. “Negotiations on a ban should start as soon as possible.”

More countries want a ban
During last week´s talks, the number of countries calling for an outright ban increased – 19 countries now back a ban on killer robots. (These are weapons that can kill without any meaningful human intervention.) The new additions to the list of countries calling for a ban are Argentina, Guatemala, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.  And for the first time, one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council has called for regulation. In a position paper presented during the CCW, China expressed doubt that killer robots could ever meet the standards required by international humanitarian law.

The Group of Governmental Experts will meet twice in 2017, for a total of ten days. It will be the first time governments will discuss these weapons in a formal setting, following informal discussions over the past three years. The group of governmental experts will meet in Geneva under UN auspices for ten days, divided over two sessions. They will look at, among other things, establishing a working definition for this type of weapon, and the legal and moral questions surrounding these weapons, as well as the consequences for international security.

Step in the right direction
The convening of a Group of Governmental Experts is “good news, since in the past, with other   weapons, this has been a step toward negotiations on regulations or on an outright ban,” says Struyk. However, PAX is concerned that the experts will be short on time. “Ten days is the bare minimum to make any progress. States need to use these 10 days efficiently, and    by the end of 2017 move toward negotiations on a comprehensive ban   before the genie is out of the bottle,“ says Struyk.

In another development, MPs in Belgium on Monday submitted a resolution calling for a ban on autonomous weapons. This is a hopeful sign, since Belgium was the first country to adopt a law banning the use of cluster munitions. These weapons are now banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions.


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