Blog: Convention on Conventional Weapons

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April 9, 2015

Clinic and HRW Release Report: “Mind the Gap: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots”

PRESS RELEASE

The “Killer Robots” Accountability Gap

Obstacles to Legal Responsibility Show Need for Ban

 

(Geneva, April 9, 2015) – Programmers, manufacturers, and military personnel could all escape liability for unlawful deaths and injuries caused by fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report was issued in advance of a multilateral meeting on the weapons at the United Nations in Geneva.

RobotCoverThe 38-page report, “Mind the Gap: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots,” details significant hurdles to assigning personal accountability for the actions of fully autonomous weapons under both criminal and civil law. It also elaborates on the consequences of failing to assign legal responsibility. The report is jointly published by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.

“No accountability means no deterrence of future crimes, no retribution for victims, no social condemnation of the responsible party,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior Arms Division researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s lead author. “The many obstacles to justice for potential victims show why we urgently need to ban fully autonomous weapons.” Continue Reading…

June 4, 2014

Taking on “Killer Robots”

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

As readers of this blog will know, last month Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty traveled with students to Geneva for the first multilateral meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons devoted to fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots.” Below is her re-cap of the week’s events, published originally on May 23, 2014 in the online forum Just Security.

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May 12, 2014

Keep “Killer Robots” Out of Policing

PRESS RELEASE


Keep ‘Killer Robots’ Out of Policing


Fully Autonomous Weapons Threaten Rights in Peace, War

(Geneva, May 12, 2014)Fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” would jeopardize basic human rights, whether used in wartime or for law enforcement, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today, on the eve of the first multilateral meeting on the subject at the United Nations.

The 26-page report, “Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots,” is the first report to assess in detail the risks posed by these weapons during law enforcement operations, expanding the debate beyond the battlefield. Human Rights Watch found that fully autonomous weapons would threaten rights and principles under international law as fundamental as the right to life, the right to a remedy, and the principle of dignity.

“In policing, as well as war, human judgment is critically important to any decision to use a lethal weapon,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments need to say no to fully autonomous weapons for any purpose and to preemptively ban them now, before it is too late.”

International debate over fully autonomous weapons has previously focused on their potential role in armed conflict and questions over whether they would be able to comply with international humanitarian law, also called the laws of war. Human Rights Watch, in the new report, examines the potential impact of fully autonomous weapons under human rights law, which applies during peacetime as well as armed conflict.

Nations should adopt a preemptive international ban on these weapons, which would be able to identify and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention, Human Rights Watch said. Countries are pursuing ever-greater autonomy in weapons, and precursors already exist.

The release of the report, co-published with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, coincides with the first multilateral meeting on the weapons. Many of the 117 countries that have joined the Convention on Conventional Weapons are expected to attend the meeting of experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems at the United Nations in Geneva from May 13 to 16, 2014. The members of the convention agreed at their annual meeting on November 2013 to begin work on the issue in 2014.

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November 13, 2013

Clinic and Human Rights Watch Urge International Talks on ‘Killer Robots’

Posted by Cara Solomon

Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty is in Geneva today at the annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, making the case for a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots.” By her side are two students from the International Human Rights Clinic: Lara Berlin, JD ’13, and Ben Bastomski, JD ’15.

The Clinic has been working closely with Human Rights Watch (HRW) for more than a year on the threat of fully autonomous weapons, which would have the ability to identify and fire on human targets without intervention. Today, they released their latest joint paper on the topic and urged international talks to begin. Thanks to Bonnie, Lara, Ben, and Elina Katz, JD ’14, for their work on the paper.

For more information, read the HRW press release below.


PRESS RELEASE


UN: Start International Talks on ‘Killer Robots’


Conventional Weapons Meeting Provides Opportunity for Action

(Geneva, November 13, 2013) – Governments should agree this week to begin international discussions in 2014 on fully autonomous robot weapons, with a view to a future treaty banning the weapons, said Human Rights Watch today.

Human Rights Watch, together with the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, issued a report making the case for a pre-emptive ban to government delegates attending the annual meeting in Geneva of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

“As technology races ahead, governments need to engage now in intensive discussions on the potential dangers of fully autonomous weapons,” said Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Deliberations about killer robots need to include nongovernmental groups, and be underpinned by a clear sense of urgency and purpose if they are to result in concrete action.”

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December 8, 2011

Reflections on a Major Weapons Victory: Overcoming Powerful Opposition, Ban on Cluster Munitions Strengthened

Posted by Anna Crowe, LLM '12, Nicolette Boehland, JD '13, and Robert Yoskowitz, JD '13

“We are the voices of victims, not just diplomats. . . . If we have to pay a political price, if we can just save one single life, it is worth it.  And I think we are not alone.” 

– Representative of Costa Rica, the Fourth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons

At precisely 7:05pm on Friday, November 25, the chair of the Fourth Review Conference for the Convention on Conventional Weapons concluded that there was no consensus in the room on the adoption of a proposed protocol regulating cluster munitions.  This seemingly banal statement marked the end of a decade of deliberations and political machinations, and hundreds of days of diplomatic meetings.  More important, it marked a victory for the supporters of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and its goal of eliminating these weapons and the harm they cause.

Nicolette Boehland leans in over Anna Crowe's shoulder behind two computers. There is a tent card in front of them that reads "Human Rights Watch."
Nicolette Boehland, JD ’13, and Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, at the Fourth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva.

As the Clinic had argued in a joint paper with Human Rights Watch—and in other documents distributed at the Conference—adding a new treaty to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons would have constituted an unprecedented step backwards for the laws of war.  The proposed weak treaty would have legitimized rather than stigmatized future use of cluster munitions, and we are thrilled that it was rejected.  The outcome was in no way certain.

The Clinic has been working for years first to help create and then to promote the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits not just the use of these weapons, but also their production, stockpiling, and transfer.  Currently, 108 states have signed on to the ban, which took legal effect last year, and 66 are full states parties.

The United States, however, wanted to produce a separate treaty that would have allowed cluster munition use under the Convention on Conventional Weapons framework.  The idea had received support from Russia, China, Israel, India, South Korea, and a range of other states.

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August 23, 2011

Strengthening the Humanitarian Protections of Incendiary Weapons Treaty

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

In the latest step of our push for stronger international law on incendiary weapons, the International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch (HRW)  released recommendations yesterday for amending an existing protocol on the weapons.

The new paper calls on states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) to close several loopholes in CCW’s Protocol III.  The paper recommends broadening the definition of “incendiary weapon” to cover all munitions with incendiary effects, including white phosphorus.  It also argues that while an absolute ban would have the greatest humanitarian impact, countries should at least prohibit the use of incendiary weapons in populated areas and consider outlawing use against people, whether civilian or soldier.

In earlier papers, the Clinic and HRW outlined the shortcomings of Protocol III and described the humanitarian suffering produced by incendiary weapons. Incendiary weapons cause cruel, conscience-shocking injuries such as severe burns, asphyxiation, disfigurement, and psychological trauma, as well as death.

Joanne Box, LLM ’11, Alan Cliff, JD ’11, and Joe Phillips, JD ’12, helped develop the team’s recommendations and drafted the paper being distributed at a conference of CCW states parties in Geneva this week.

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April 8, 2011

Pressure Mounts for Stronger Incendiary Weapons Treaty

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

The International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch (HRW) lobbied at a UN disarmament conference in Geneva last week for stronger international law on incendiary weapons.  The Clinic has previously presented the legal arguments for more robust protections; this time, we focused on the suffering these weapons cause to civilians.

Behind the scenes, diplomats at the meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) responded positively to our paper and our presentation, and they were visibly moved by the photographs and testimony we provided.  The next step is to get their public support for the critical protections.

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