• 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



  • 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 20, 2014
  • Jun 27, 2014
    It gives me great pleasure to return to Maputo, where I had the honor of delivering the keynote address for the ICBL in 1999 during the First Meeting of States Parties. That was a very exciting time, one filled with ambition and creativity, with deep commitment and conviction, and with great optimism that the new form of diplomacy we were pioneering, now called humanitarian disarmament, would succeed in ending the global scourge caused by antipersonnel landmines.
  • Jun 27, 2014
    The Obama administration has made a commitment to take several steps that may ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty, Human Rights Watch said today. The US Ambassador to Mozambique made the announcement on June 27, 2014 at the Mine Ban Treaty’s Third Review Conference in Maputo, which the US is attending as an observer.
  • Jun 19, 2014
    The administration of President Barack Obama should conclude a five-year-long policy review and announce a decision to join the treaty to ban landmines.
  • Jun 18, 2014
    Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the escalating levels of violence in Syria. Syria’s air force continues to carry out indiscriminate, and in some cases deliberate, air strikes against civilians, often by using barrel bombs. The Syrian government is indiscriminately striking civilians and civilian objects in Aleppo as well as areas in Daraa and Hama governorate with unguided, high-explosive barrel bombs.
  • Jun 10, 2014
    Fully autonomous weapons, which could select and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention, have the potential to revolutionize the nature of warfare, bringing greater speed and reach to military operations. In the process, though, this emerging technology could endanger both civilians and soldiers.
  • May 23, 2014
    New weapons that could revolutionize killing are on the horizon. Lethal autonomous weapons systems, also called fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots,” would go beyond today’s armed drones. They would be able to select and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention. In other words, they could determine themselves when to take a human life.
  • May 16, 2014
    Governments are increasingly recognizing the potential dangers posed by fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” Human Rights Watch said today. The first multilateral meeting on the weapon systems concluded on May 16, 2014, at the United Nations in Geneva.
  • May 15, 2014
    This session raises two areas of great concern to Human Rights Watch: the accountability gap created by fully autonomous weapons and the human rights implications of the weapons.