Growing opposition to fully autonomous weapons from various quarters shows how the public conscience supports banning weapons systems that lack meaningful human control.  © 2018 Russell Christian/Human Rights Watch

Thousands of children across Belgium studied five shortlisted Peace Prize nominees over the past school year and voted for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots to win the award, given out every three years by the city of Ypres.

The prize shows how interest in the Campaign, co-founded and coordinated by Human Rights Watch, is growing across the world, especially among children. Ninety percent of those who voted for the prize were age 18 or younger.

Last year, I joined the Campaign in West Virginia for the 24th World Scout Jamboree, where we held workshops attended by more than 1,400 scouts. They were curious about the killer robots challenge and keen to contribute to the Campaign’s work.

The Campaign is made up of 160 nongovernmental organizations in 66 countries and was established in 2012. It is working to ban such weapons and keep meaningful human control over the use of force.

This week’s announcement by the city of Ypres gives fresh impetus to the call for a new treaty to ban fully autonomous weapons.

Ypres and the surrounding region have directly experienced armed conflict, which left landmines and explosive remnants of war that are being cleared and destroyed to this day. During World War I, Ypres experienced the first large-scale use of chemical weapons, by German forces.

In 2018, Belgium’s national parliament adopted a resolution urging the government to work for a new international treaty prohibiting fully autonomous weapons, but it is not one of the 30 countries calling for a new treaty. A public opinion poll conducted eight months ago found that 71 percent of Belgians believe that their government should work for an international ban on fully autonomous weapons. 

The award is a clear signal for Belgium and governments across Europe and the rest of the world to respond with urgency to rising public concerns by launching negotiations on a new treaty banning killer robots.