Blog: Jonathan Nomamiukor

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May 29, 2013

Using the Tools of the Trade: The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

Posted by Jonathan Nomamiukor, JD ’13

Last summer, after two years at Harvard Law School, I elected to take a leave of absence to join President Obama’s re-election campaign. My decision had less to do with any affinity for the President and more to do with my disillusionment with law school in general. I had enrolled with aspirations to enter public service, believing that by simply attending classes in the same building as Charles Hamilton Houston, the famed civil rights lawyer, I’d follow in his footsteps.

After a month of lectures about water property lines, chicken sexing, and figuring out whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable, I began to question whether law school was really the right choice for me. If my goal was to combat systemic inequities, could an education that focused on how to work within the status quo—rather than challenge it—be the best path? As the saying goes: will the master’s tools ever be good enough to dismantle the master’s house?

In London recently, I had the opportunity to find out. I traveled there with a team from the International Human Rights Clinic, which I joined after returning to HLS in January. For the past few months, we had been working on the controversial topic of fully autonomous weapons, which are essentially drones that can target and kill without any human intervention. These weapons don’t exist yet, but technology is moving rapidly in that direction, and precursors are already in use.

A coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had gathered to launch a campaign to ban these “killer robots,” and I was there with my clinical supervisor, Bonnie Docherty, also a senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, to participate in it. At a pre-launch forum for campaigners, Docherty was busy giving a presentation in one room while I slipped into a session on the ethics involved with fully autonomous weapons.

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