• 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.

Reports

Killer Robots

  • 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.
  • May 15, 2014
    Human Rights Watch appreciates the discussions we have had yesterday and today on the international humanitarian law implications of lethal autonomous weapons systems. With all due respect, however, we want it to be clear that there are legal experts with different points of view than those on the panel. We see the weapons’ inability to comply with existing law as a major problem and the possibility of adopting new law as the best solution.
  • May 13, 2014
    Human Rights Watch is one of the founders of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch is the global coordinator of the Campaign. We welcome discussions on fully autonomous weapons in any forum, and we hope, for example, that there will continue to be work on this issue in the Human Rights Council.
  • May 13, 2014
    This paper seeks to advance the discussions about fully autonomous weapons by elaborating on the call for a ban and addressing head on the main arguments against such a ban. In so doing, it seeks to add depth and nuance to the case against these weapons.
  • May 12, 2014
    Fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” would jeopardize basic human rights, whether used in wartime or for law enforcement, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today, on the eve of the first multilateral meeting on the subject at the United Nations.
  • May 7, 2014
    For more than a decade, serious concern has been raised about civilian victims of drone strikes, yet there is still little transparency or accountability, and the attacks continue. A strike in December on a wedding procession in Yemen killed 12 men and wounded at least 15 other people, including the bride.
  • Mar 27, 2014
    We write to urge you to vote in favor of the Human Rights Council Resolution on ensuring use of remotely piloted aircraft or armed drones in counter-terrorism and military operations in accordance with international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law, A/HRC/25/L.32.