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Statement on the "Emergence of Convergence" to the CCW informal meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems

Delivered by Bonnie Docherty, Senior Researcher

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to begin by thanking Belgium for keeping the momentum going on a significant humanitarian issue and hosting a constructive meeting, despite the challenges of the global pandemic. 

Human Rights Watch is heartened by the emergence of convergence regarding ways to address the threats posed by autonomous weapons systems. There were number of joint papers submitted to the Chair in June and associated joint statements have been made this week. Particularly strong ones came from the Group of 6 (Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, and Uruguay) and from Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

The positions of these and other states parties have also converged on certain policy points. Over the course of the week, there have been widespread calls for a new legally binding instrument on autonomous weapons systems, and proponents of such a treaty have generally proposed a structure that includes a combination of prohibitions and regulations.

Many states parties have recommended prohibiting weapons systems that cannot operate with meaningful human control. Some have also recommended prohibiting systems that use sensor inputs to target humans, or at least have expressed concern about delegating life-and-death decisions to machines.

We have also heard calls for positive obligations to ensure that weapons systems that rely on sensor inputs but fall outside the prohibitions are not used without meaningful human control. States have highlighted different types of control, such as the need for a human to understand how a system works, predictability and reliability, and spatial and temporal limitations.

Not every treaty proponent has enumerated identical details, but collectively, these themes align with the elements of a proposed treaty identified by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

While Human Rights Watch welcomes this convergence of views among states parties that seek to respond to one of the modern world’s most serious threats, convergence is insufficient in a consensus body. The fact that this week’s gathering is an informal consultation rather than a formal session of the GGE is a reminder that CCW states parties cannot even reach agreement on the nature of meetings. 

On a more substantive note, we have heard some states parties recommend pursuing voluntary, non-binding documents rather than a legally binding instrument or holding even more discussions on lethal autonomous weapons systems. These states should recognize that the development of weapons systems that could operate without meaningful human control raises fundamental moral, legal, and security concerns, which warrant a strong and urgent response. 

We therefore recommend states parties:

  • Continue to articulate their positions on the details of such a response,
  • Agree at the Sixth Review Conference to a mandate to negotiate a legally binding instrument on autonomous weapons systems, and
  •  Be prepared to look to other forums if the CCW Review Conference fails to take the requisite action.

Thank you.

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