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HRW: autonomous weapons should be banned by international convention

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [report, PDF] on Monday finding that the use of fully autonomous weapons by militaries or law enforcement would be an affront to basic human rights and should be preemptively banned by international convention. The report, entitled "Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots," was jointly authored [Al Jazeera report] by HRW and Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic [university website]. It questions the ability of autonomous weapons to comply with international humanitarian law. According to the report, robots could not be pre-programmed to handle every circumstance, and thus fully autonomous weapons would be prone to carrying out arbitrary killings when encountering unforeseen situations. Because it is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future that robots could be developed to have certain human qualities, such as judgment and the ability to identify with humans, fully autonomous weapons will not be able to effectively comply with human rights laws.

Last year HRW encouraged action [JURIST report] on behalf of UN members at the upcoming 2013 Convention for Conventional Weapons (CCW) [UN website] in support of France's initiative to add fully autonomous weapons to the CCW's work program for 2014. In 2012 The US was the first country to issue a governmental policy statement [text, PDF] on the use of partially and fully-autonomous weapons. However, the US has also received negative international attention for the use of unmanned military weapons, or drones [JURIST backgrounder]. Two UN rights experts have urged greater accountability [JURIST report] and transparency in the use of drone strikes. A report by the UN, following such criticism, claimed [JURIST report] the US military killed more individuals than publicly stated in a series of drone attacks.

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