The world moved a step closer to outlawing killer robots today after states agreed to start international talks on the use of lethal autonomous weapons.

In a landmark move, the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), meeting in Geneva, agreed to hold discussions on killer robots in 2014.

The discussions will bring together a range of experts with the aim of exploring how ‘lethal autonomous weapons systems’ will be controlled in the future.

The news was welcomed by UK members of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, including Amnesty International, Article 36, Action on Armed Violence, War on Want, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Human Rights Watch, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and the United Nations Association – UK.

However, UK campaign groups made clear that this development still represents very much the first step.

Amnesty International UK Arms Programme Director, Oliver Sprague, said:

“The defence industry has been ploughing a lot of money into researching, developing and testing these lethal autonomous weapons and the brakes need to be slammed on before it is too late.

“Over the next 12 months, states must grasp this once in a lifetime opportunity, and stop a future where robots can make the decision on whether you live or die.”

Article 36’s Director, Thomas Nash, said:

“The UK government agrees with us that weapons must always be under human control. The UN process launched today needs to define what exactly is meant by ‘human control’. Drawing this line and negotiating new international rules is the only way to prevent the development of lethal autonomous weapons. This is in the UK interest as well as the interests of all.”

UNA-UK’s Executive Director, Natalie Samarasinghe, said:

“At last the issue of killer robots has been tabled for serious discussion. The UN has a strong track record of helping to set new global standards in arms control and in regulating those weapons deemed by the international community to be unacceptable. Lethal autonomous weapons clearly fall into this bracket and governments cannot simply claim that existing international law is enough.”

Professor Noel Sharkey, from the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, added:

“We are concerned that lethal autonomous weapons will not comply with International Humanitarian Law in unanticipated circumstances. It could represent a slippery slope into indiscriminate warfare if we do not stop it now.”

Background information

The CCW was put in place in 1980 to ban and restrict weapons of particular concern to humanity.

Notes to editors

To get a briefing on killer robots or to arrange an interview with Amnesty’s Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague, Thomas Nash or Noel Sharkey from the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, please contact:

Niall Couper (in London): 020 7033 6414, [email protected]

Laura Boillot (in Geneva): 07515-575-175, [email protected]