• 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

  • Sep 1, 2014
    Credible evidence has emerged that Islamic State forces used ground-fired cluster munitions in at least one location in northern Syria in recent weeks, Human Rights Watch said today. The use of cluster munitions by non-state actors such as the Islamic State shows the urgent need for Syria and all nations that have not yet done so to join the ban on cluster munitions and destroy their stockpiles.
  • Aug 24, 2014
    Oman joined the international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines on August 20, 2014, Human Rights Watch said today. It is the 8th Arab country and 162nd country worldwide to join. The move should encourage the remaining 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa to join the Mine Ban Treaty and respect its provisions.
  • Aug 21, 2014
    This month marks 100 years since the beginning of World War One. For many working to advance humanitarian disarmament, it is a time to reflect on the changing nature of warfare over the past century and consider whether the dire situation faced by civilian victims of warfare is likely to get any better in the future. How will civilians be affected by the introduction of increasingly autonomous military technologies that place human soldiers ever further away from the field of operation and perhaps one day remove them altogether?
  • 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.