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Call Growing for Treaty to Ban Killer Robots

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The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is urging the United Nations to begin talks on a legally binding treaty to ban the use and development of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Representatives from more than 70 countries are attending a weeklong meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, or CCW, to recommend future work on this issue.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is a global coalition of 76 organizations in 32 countries. Members include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Mines Action Canada and the Nobel Women’s Initiative. It began in April 2013 to pre-emptively ban lethal autonomous weapons systems, better known as killer robots.

Activists say momentum is building for states to negotiate a ban on the devices when the CCW holds its annual meeting in late November; however, the recommendation for further action is required during the current CCW meeting.

Since the last meeting in April, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots reports 26 countries have joined the call for a ban. It says China is agreeable to a partial ban on the use of these weapons, though not on their development, and Russia has announced its support for a non-binding agreement.

Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch, the coordinator of the campaign, says this is putting pressure on the United States and other countries to support a ban on fully autonomous weapons.

“All of the ingredients are there for states to take action now,” Wareham said. “It is just a matter of who is willing to be the bad guy and try and block this, and that is what we will know at the end of the week. … The CCW operates by consensus, and it is always an awkward thing to witness. We will find out on Friday if any country wants to block the consensus for the proposed mandate.” 

The proposed mandate is to negotiate a legally binding agreement by the end of 2019. During the last meeting, France, Israel, Russia, Britain and the United States emerged as potential spoilers — they all explicitly rejected moves to prohibit these weapons systems.

Activists say legally binding arrangements must be enacted to ensure human control over lethal fully autonomous weapons. To do otherwise, they say, would violate international ethical standards. They say it is not possible to hold killer robots accountable for acts that would amount to war crimes if triggered by a human.

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