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Rights group encourages UN to address autonomous weapons

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Wednesday encouraged action [press release] on behalf of UN members at the upcoming 2013 Convention for Conventional Weapons (CCW) [UN website] on November 14-15, chaired by Ambassador Jean-Hughes Simon-Michel of France. The advocacy group supports France's initiative to add fully autonomous weapons to the CCW's work program for 2014. A UN-wide decision to adopt the initiative will be made on Friday. HRW wants an appropriate forum to discuss the impact that fully autonomous weapons, or "killer robots," may have on modern warfare and civilians. Currently, fully autonomous weapons are not in use or production by militaries around the world, but HRW is concerned about proliferation once technology supporting these weapons is developed. Unlike drones, which require human control, fully autonomous weapons can select and engage targets based on computer programming. The arms advocacy director at HRW, Mary Wareham, believes "an international ban is needed to ensure that humans will retain control over decisions to target and use force against other humans." HRW addressed the concerns of fully autonomous weapons in a joint report [report, PDF] with the Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic published this month. Also, HRW operates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots [advocacy website], which is an international coalition of non-governmental organizations launched in April 2013.

The US was the first country to issue a governmental policy statement [text, PDF] on the use of partially and fully-autonomous weapons, released in November 2012. However, the US has also received negative international attention for the use of unmanned military weapons, or drones [JURIST backgrounder]. Just last month, two UN rights experts urged greater accountability [JURIST report] and transparency in the use of drone strikes. Also last month a report by the UN claimed [JURIST report] the US military killed more individuals than publicly stated in a series of drone attacks.

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