(Geneva) – An agreement on December 16, 2016, at an international disarmament conference in Geneva could set the course toward a ban on “killer robots,” fully autonomous weapons that would strike without human intervention, Human Rights Watch said today.
At their five-year review conference in Geneva, the 123 nations that are part of the intenational Convention on Conventional Weapons, agreed to formalize their efforts next year to deal with the challenges raised by weapons systems that would select and attack targets without meaningful human control. The conference participants also agreed to discuss international regulations on incendiary weapons, which severely burn people and set buildings aflame, and are causing devastating harm to civilians in Syria.
“The governments meeting in Geneva took an important step toward stemming the development of killer robots, but there is no time to lose” said Steve Goose, arms director of Human Rights Watch, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Once these weapons exist, there will be no stopping them. The time to act on a pre-emptive ban is now.”
The countries agreed by consensus in Geneva to bring together a group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems at the United Nations in 2017, a major step toward negotiations for a ban. These weapons have not yet been developed, but technology is moving rapidly toward increasing autonomy.
For the first time, China said in Geneva it sees a need for a new international instrument on lethal autonomous weapons systems. The group of nations endorsing the call to ban these weapons expanded to 19 with the additions of Argentina, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. India’s disarmament representative, Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill, will chair the killer robots work in 2017.
Governments at the Review Conference also took steps toward addressing the humanitarian problems posed by incendiary weapons. They collectively condemned the use of these weapons against civilians and civilian objects and, for the first time since 1980, agreed to discuss the law governing them.
Incendiary weapons cause excruciatingly painful burns that are difficult to treat. A protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons on incendiary weapons has loopholes undermining its ability to prevent the weapons’ harm to civilians.
“Existing law must be strengthened urgently to better protect civilians from the cruel effects of these barbaric weapons,” Goose said. “Governments should act before it is too late for civilians living in towns and cities attacked by Syrian government forces with incendiary weapons.”