Last Friday, for the first time ever, 70 states from around the world came together for it to make a joint statement on killer robots. It is the largest inter-regional group statement ever made in UN discussions on autonomous weapons and provides a strong and positive basis for future work.
The statement recognises that autonomous weapons systems pose serious humanitarian, legal, security, technological and ethical challenges, acknowledges the need to maintain human responsibility and accountability in the use of force, and underlines the need for internationally agreed rules and limits, including prohibitions and regulations.
Members of the Stop Killer Robots campaign in New York and around the world worked hard to support this joint statement and to push for an international treaty on autonomous weapons systems. The activist team was present throughout the UN General Assembly, working with diplomats to prepare the groundwork for a legal framework against the automation of killing.
Automated harm is on the rise
Recent weeks have seen an increase in reports and coverage of the use of “loitering munitions” with autonomous capabilities in Ukraine. This is not an isolated incident; autonomous weapons are increasingly being used in ongoing conflicts and without the legal clarity needed to ensure meaningful control. This makes it all the more urgent that states come together to develop the legal framework necessary to protect civilians.
Robotics companies are taking a stand
Six robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics, published an open letter to the robotics industry pledging “not to weaponise our general-purpose advanced mobility robots or the software we develop for advanced robotics, and we will not support others to do so”.
This is an important step by industry, but ultimately states are responsible for establishing the new legal framework for autonomous weapons systems.
As the International Committee of the Red Cross has noted, “new legally binding rules on autonomous weapons systems are urgently needed”; however, in the absence of such rules, progressive steps by industry actors show that change is coming and regulation is expected.
Momentum is growing!
The movement to set limits on autonomous weapons is gaining force. At the 51st UN Human Rights Council, states passed a resolution recognising the challenges to human responsibility in automated decision-making.
At the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Opening Week, the UN Secretary-General again called on member states to address the emerging threat of autonomous weapons, which he has previously referred to as “politically unacceptable and morally repugnant”.
This objective is also formalised in the UN Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” report, which calls on states to “establish internationally agreed limits” on autonomous weapons systems. The Costa Rican government has announced that it will hold a conference in February to discuss a regional response to the issue, with more international meetings expected through 2023.
Stop Killer Robots campaigners are hopeful that progress will be made and continue to push for the start of negotiations on a new international treaty.
They also invite action by signing the petition or connecting with legislators to join the Stop Killer Robots parliamentary commitment.
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