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Last month, members of the Stop Killer Robots campaign met in Costa Rica with 68 campaigners from 29 countries for their first in-person global conference since the Covid-19 pandemic. A central theme of the conference was around digital dehumanization, “a process in which human beings are reduced to data points that are then used to make decisions and/or take actions that negatively affect their lives.” With the increase in digital dehumanization, the Stop Killer Robots Campaign has longstanding and growing concerns over removing human control from the use of force.

Throughout the conference, campaigners discussed the challenges raised by autonomous weapons systems in a broad social context and considered how automated systems could reproduce or exacerbate harm and power imbalances already present in society.

The meeting allowed campaigners from different regions and countries to share their strategies and tactics. Together, their work builds a strong basis for moving towards opening negotiations on a new international treaty to prohibit and regulate autonomous weapons systems – weapons that operate without meaningful human control – as soon as possible.

Costa Rica’s vice minister of multilateral affairs, Christian Guillermet-Fernández, addressed the meeting’s closing session, articulating his government’s strong desire to adopt a legally binding instrument. “We want to move forward with this important issue and right now,” he said. “We cannot wait any longer.”

Costa Rica has since set that goal in motion by convening a regional conference on the social and humanitarian impact of autonomous weapons on February 23-24. More than 30 governments from across Latin American and Caribbean countries endorsed the Belén Communiqué, acknowledging the need “to promote the urgent negotiation of an international legally binding instrument, with prohibitions and regulations with regard to autonomy in weapons systems.”

The communiqué highlights the importance of maintaining meaningful human control over the use of force, in order “to prevent further dehumanization of warfare, as well as to ensure individual accountability and state responsibility.”

The bold move puts Latin American and Caribbean countries in the lead when it comes to regulating dangers raised by autonomy in weapons systems. Now the pressure is on other regions to step up their support for negotiating new legal rules without delay. The world cannot wait.

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