High Representative’s statement to the Human Rights Council on the topic of lethal autonomous robotics

May 30th, 2013

Below is the statement of the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs to the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council, on the topic of lethal autonomous robotics. It was delivered on behalf of the High Representative by Mr. Jarmo Sareva, Director of the Geneva Branch of UNODA

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Chamber of the Human Rights Council

I am pleased for this opportunity to deliver this statement on behalf of Ms. Angela Kane, United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

The Office for Disarmament Affairs welcomes this opportunity to engage in this interactive dialogue on lethal autonomous robotics.

We live in a world where the means of warfare are constantly evolving. As we have seen over the last century, emerging technologies can bring about great changes in concepts of security and can redefine the nature of relationships between states.

More than a decade into the 21st century, the pace of technological developments continues to accelerate. So too must our efforts to come to grips with the implications of emerging weapon systems in the fields of international peace and security, disarmament, human rights and humanitarian affairs.

In each of these respective areas, autonomous weapon systems pose unique challenges that deserve further consideration and action in the appropriate United Nations forums. These challenges have multiple dimensions and raise implications in the areas of non-proliferation, ethics, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international security.

The emergence of autonomous weapons calls into question the adequacy of measures to implement the rules of armed conflict that apply to the use of all weapon systems. The purpose of these rules is clear. The major imperative is to protect civilians from unacceptable harm. There must also be adequate human accountability at all times. Yet, one key question posed by autonomous weapons is how can accountability be maintained when humans are no longer involved in the final decision?

I am pleased that the report of the special rapporteur has recognized the contribution that the progressive development of disarmament law has made to mitigate the humanitarian consequences of armed conflict.

Concern over the humanitarian impact of war has long been a driving force for disarmament and arms control. The humanitarian perspective has been instrumental in successful efforts to prohibit and eliminate certain categories of weapons of mass destruction. It has also resulted in the elimination of weapons that can cause excessive injuries or that have indiscriminate effects, including anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions.

History has proven that we need not wait for a weapon system to fully emerge before appropriate action can be taken to understand its implications and to adopt effective measures to mitigate and eliminate unacceptable risk. Indeed, this was the experience with the successful effort to ban blinding laser weapons, accomplished within the framework of the inhumane weapons convention.

In the context of the United Nations disarmament machinery and beyond, challenges posed by unmanned combat systems are getting increasing attention. Existing measures adopted by the Security Council and considered by ad hoc bodies of the General Assembly have tended to focus on unmanned aerial vehicles, particularly those capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.

As work continues to adequately address concerns pertaining to unmanned combat systems, it is clear that the issue of autonomous weapons merits special consideration. The Office for Disarmament Affairs intends to remain closely engaged on this issue and looks forward to contributing to and supporting the efforts of Member States.

Thank you.

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