Amnesty urges UN member states to ban further development of autonomous weapons systems

19 April 2015 (Last Updated April 19th, 2015 18:30)

Amnesty International has urged all UN member states to ban any further development of fully autonomous weapons systems (AWS) before their use in policing 'puts lives at risk.'

killer robot

Amnesty International has urged all UN member states to ban any further development of fully autonomous weapons systems (AWS) before their use in policing 'puts lives at risk'.

The organisation launched the brief during a meeting of the UN's Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva, Switzerland, calling for a pre-emptive ban on the development, stockpiling, transfer, deployment and use of AWS.

Entitled 'Autonomous Weapons Systems: Five key human rights issues for consideration,' the briefing argues that use of AWS would be fundamentally incompatible with international human rights laws, resulting in unlawful killings, excessive use of force, and undermining the right to human dignity.

Amnesty International arms control, security trade and human rights campaigner Rasha Abdul Rahim said: "The legal, ethical, and moral quandaries of using these systems in warfare are rightly beginning to receive the attention they deserve.

"Relying solely on machines to maintain law and order is not just a hypothetical scenario explored in countless sci-fi films. It is a chilling idea which may actually be realised if current developments are left unchecked.

"Now is the time for states to ban killer robots both on the battlefield and in policing, before we reach the point of no return."

"Now is the time for states to ban killer robots both on the battlefield and in policing, before we reach the point of no return."

According to Amnesty International, robots, unlike highly trained law enforcement personnel, are unable to peacefully diffuse confrontations, distinguish between lawful and unlawful orders, make decisions about graduated response with a view to minimising harm, or be held accountable for mistakes or malfunctions that lead to death or serious injuries.

While fully autonomous weapons without some level of human oversight are yet to be deployed, precursors to such systems, including drones and other unmanned weapons systems are believed to be already used to commit violations and pose serious challenges to ensuring accountability.

Amnesty alleges that companies in the US, UK, Jordan, Israel, Spain, are already developing 'less lethal' robots for law enforcement use, which are remotely operated or can fire automatically when touched.

The systems reportedly include unmanned aerial vehicles and ground vehicles that can shoot electric-shock darts, tear gas and other less-lethal projectiles, resulting in the risk of death or serious injuries.


Image: Police use of killer robots in law enforcement operations would put lives at risk and pose a serious threat to human rights. Photo: copyright 2015 Amnesty International.