• Fully autonomous weapons, also known as "killer robots," would be able to select and engage targets without human intervention. Fully autonomous weapons do not exist yet, but they are being developed by several countries and precursors to fully autonomous weapons have already been deployed by high-tech militaries. Some experts predict that fully autonomous weapons could be operational in 20 to 30 years. These weapons would be incapable of meeting international humanitarian law standards, including the rules of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity. The weapons would not be constrained by the capacity for compassion, which can provide a key check on the killing of civilians. Fully autonomous weapons also raise serious questions of accountability because it is unclear who should be held responsible for any unlawful actions they commit. Human Rights Watch calls for a preemptive prohibition on fully autonomous weapons.

    Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and currently serves as the campaign’s global coordinator.

  • The United Kingdom’s Taranis combat aircraft, whose prototype was unveiled in 2010, is designed to strike distant targets, “even in another continent.” While the Ministry of Defence has stated that humans will remain in the loop, the Taranis exemplifies the move toward increased autonomy.

    Governments should pre-emptively ban fully autonomous weapons because of the danger they pose to civilians in armed conflict.

Featured Content

Reports

Arms

  • Aug 8, 2014

    The international treaty banning cluster munitions is four years old this month. While Syria’s ongoing use of cluster munitions has kept the issue in the news lately, the reality is that the Convention on Cluster Munitions is making a big difference in saving lives and limbs and curtailing the long-term devastation caused by these weapons.

  • Aug 5, 2014
  • Aug 4, 2014
    After an agonizing five-year wait, the US announced the initial results of its landmine policy review on June 27, the final day of the Mine Ban Treaty’s Third Review Conference in Mozambique.
  • Aug 4, 2014
    On June 27, 2014, the United States government announced a new policy foreswearing future production or acquisition of antipersonnel landmines. It said the Defense Department will conduct a detailed study of alternatives to antipersonnel mines and the impact of making no further use of the weapon.
  • Jul 30, 2014
    The Syrian government is raining high explosive barrel bombs on civilians in defiance of a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution. Resolution 2139 of February 22, 2014, ordered all parties to the conflict in Syria to end the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas.
  • Jul 26, 2014

    "When we first heard one explosion we ran to the basement. And then suddenly, boom, boom, boom - countless explosions. I will never forget that sound."

  • Jul 24, 2014

    Unguided Grad rockets launched apparently by Ukrainian government forces and pro-government militias have killed at least 16 civilians and wounded many more in insurgent-controlled areas of Donetsk and its suburbs in at least four attacks between July 12 and 21, 2014.

  • Jul 22, 2014
    Israel should cease attacks that cause loss of civilian life and property in violation of the laws of war. Human Rights Watch investigated eight Israeli airstrikes that were apparent violations of the laws of war before the ground offensive that began on July 17, 2014. The findings and reports of numerous new civilian casualties heightened concerns for the safety of civilians during the ground offensive.
  • Jul 20, 2014
  • Jul 15, 2014
    Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war. Israel should end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment or broadly to destroy civilian property. Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.