Spotlight - Banner Image
Media Room

New report: Autonomous weapons a huge threat to civilians

(Ottawa, Canada) –The Nobel Women’s Initiative welcomes today’s release by Human Rights Watch of its 50-page report “Losing Humanity:  The Case Against Killer Robots.”

“Once the subject of science fiction, killer robots loom over our future if we do not take action to ban them now,” said Jody Williams, chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.  “The six Nobel Peace Laureates involved in the Nobel Women’s Initiative fully support the call for an international treaty to ban fully autonomous weaponized robots.”

“Losing Humanity” is the first significant publication by a nongovernmental organization to tackle the threat of fully autonomous weapons and make the case for a preemptive ban – in other words, for completely prohibiting their development, production and use before it happens.  Jointly published by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, the report is the result of extensive research into the law as well as the technology and ethics of developing and using such weapons.

Fully autonomous weapons still are weapons of the future, but no one is certain how close that future is.  Precursors of killer robots, such as drones and robotic sentry systems, are already in use.  These weapons still rely on humans to decide whether or not to fire on a target.  Fully autonomous weapons would function without any human intervention.

“With killer robots, people would be at the service of technology rather than the other way around,” said Williams.“It is essential to stop the development of killer robots before they show up in national arsenals,” said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch. “Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far.”

Of particular concern is the likely impact on civilians, particularly women and children, who are always the most vulnerable during conflict. “Losing Humanity” outlines concerns about killer robots.  Fully autonomous weapons would inherently lack human qualities necessary for legal and non-legal checks on killing civilians. It would also be extremely difficult to determine accountability for harm caused by the weapons, which would weaken legal restraints that would deter future violations.

The United States is in the lead on developing such weapons, but other countries – including China, Germany, Israel, Russia, South Korea and the UK – are also involved.  “The thought of a new arms race fueled by killer robots is beyond the pale,” said Williams.

Williams, known for her work to create the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was the driving force behind efforts leading to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, said, “Whenever I speak about killer robots, the immediate reaction from the public is revulsion at the very thought that their governments would even contemplate such weapons.  What’s more, even high-level government officials that I have spoken with are completely unaware that work to create weaponized robots is already underway.  There is much work to be done raising public awareness about killer robots and ‘Losing Humanity’ is a critical tool in that process.”


To access the report, please visit the Human Right Watch website here.


To schedule an interview with Jody Williams, please contact:

Rachel Vincent, Media Manager

Nobel Women’s Initiative

613-569-8400, ext. 113 or 613-276-9030 (mobile)