Nigeria

Council of churches call for ban on fully autonomous weapons

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an advocacy initiative of the Institute of Church and Society of the Christian Council of Nigeria and the World Council of Churches, has called for a preemptive and comprehensive ban on the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous robots through new international law as well as through national laws and other measures.

The director of the Institute of Church and Society, Ibadan Very Rev. O. Kolade Fadahunsi, spearheaded this call during a virtual conference titled, stopping the killing machines, the illegality of killer robots on Monday, adding that “we live in a world where science and technology continues to define how we exist.

According to him, shrinking economic opportunities and recessions has encouraged political and security manoeuvrings among the comity of nations and the struggle for survival and control of economic decisions by powerful states may be another underlining reason that propels the development of weapons especially destructive weapons such as the killer robots.

“In current practice, there is an expectation that human control is exercised over the use of weapons. This means when, where and how weapons are used; what or whom they are used against; and the effects of their use. Increasingly autonomous weapon systems threaten to erode what we have come to expect in terms of human control over weapons.

“Weapon systems that operate outside of the parameters of meaningful human control are neither ethically acceptable nor legally permissible. Human control over the use of weapons and their effects is essential to ensuring that the use of a weapon is morally justifiable and legal. Such control is also required for accountability over the consequences of the use of force.

“State should make it explicit that meaningful human control is required over individual attacks and weapons systems that operate without meaningful human control should be prohibited,” he said.

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Also speaking, Jennifer Philpot- Nissen, the Programme Executive, Central Council of International Affairs, World Council of Churches in Geneva, stated that international humanitarian law governs the use of weapons on the battlefield but because killer robots would operate without meaningful human control, they would face particular difficulties in complying with two fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.

“Warring parties must be able to distinguish between civilians and soldiers and between civilian objects such as homes or schools and military objectives. Weapons that cannot make such distinctions are considered “indiscriminate” and unlawful.  The laws of war also require the warring parties to weigh the proportionality of an attack.  Will the expected harm to civilians and civilian objects be excessive in relation to the expected military advantage?  Killer robots cannot replace human judgement,” she said.

Also, the Human Rights Watch in a 50-page-report titled Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots, stated that fully autonomous weapons would increase the danger to civilians they would inherently lack human qualities that provide legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians.

The report added that the obstacles to holding anyone accountable for the harm caused by the weapons would weaken the law’s power to deter future violations.

According to Steve Goose, the 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. Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.”

Though fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, it is said that major powers, including the United States, have not made a decision to deploy them. But high-tech militaries are developing or have already deployed precursors that illustrate the push toward greater autonomy for machines on the battlefield and experts predict that full autonomy for weapons could be achieved in 20 to 30 years.

“It is essential to stop the development of killer robots before they show up in national arsenals. As countries become more invested in this technology, it will become harder to persuade them to give it up. Action is needed now before killer robots cross the line from science fiction to feasibility” Goose said.

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