Autonomous Weapon Systems under International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law

Completed in May 2017

Would the use of weapon systems that can detect, select and fire at targets without human intervention comply with international legal standards for the protection of the human person, and if so, under what circumstances? This is one of the key questions in the current debate about autonomous weapon systems (AWS), also called ‘killer robots’, weapon systems that by some definitions don’t yet exist.

This project examined the legal requirements that the use of AWS would need to comply with in a number of scenarios envisaged by proponents of increasing autonomy in weapon systems.

It looked beyond compliance with the international humanitarian law (IHL) rules on targeting and also examines other rules of IHL and international human rights law, including standards on the use of force for law enforcement purposes.

Drawing on case law dealing with other weapon technologies and autonomous systems, it asks in particular: Who or what may force be directed at? Where and when may AWS be used? What are the procedural legal requirements in terms of the planning, conduct and aftermath of AWS use?

 

RESEARCHER

Picture of Maya Brehm

Maya Brehm

Researcher

Maya Brehm's research focuses on the regulation of weapons under international law.

OUTPUT

Defending the Boundary: Constraints and Requirements on the Use of Autonomous Weapon Systems under International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law

Academy Briefing No.9 Defending the Boundary analyzes the constraints and requirements on the use of autonomous weapon systems (AWS), also called ‘killer robots’, under international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). Drawing on case law dealing with other weapon technologies and autonomous systems, it asks where and when AWS may be used, and what the procedural legal requirements are in terms of the planning, conduct and aftermath of AWS use.

A Research Brief for Policy Makers and Advocacy Groups

A Research Brief of Academy Briefing No.9 provides policy makers and advocacy groups with a summary of key findings.

Publications

Cover of Briefing N°9: Defending the boundary

Briefing N°9: Defending the boundary

May 2017

Maya Brehm

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Cover of the Research Brief: Defending the Boundary

Research Brief: Defending the Boundary

May 2017

Maya Brehm

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Cover of the Briefing No8: Autonomous Weapons Systems Under International Law

Briefing N°8: Autonomous Weapons Systems Under International Law

November 2014

Milena Costas Trascasas, Nathalie Weizmann

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

News

Autonomous Weapon Systems: Legality under International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

May 2017

Our new publication Defending the Boundary analyses the constraints and requirements on the use of autonomous weapon systems (AWS), also called ‘killer robots’, under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Read more

Syria, Aleppo, Al-Kallaseh district. The remains of an ambulance in the debris. Event

Current Issues in Armed Conflicts

29- June 2017

This one and a half-day conference, organized by the Geneva Academy and the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex, will address contemporary issues in armed conflicts.

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Special Panel on Libya

June 2017, 18:00-19:30

This IHL Talk, organized with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), will discuss the legal and political challenges faced by the country, including the protection of migrants and the role that different actors play in terrorism networks.

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12th Advanced Seminar in International Humanitarian Law for University Lecturers and Researchers

25- September 2017

Organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Geneva Academy, the 12th edition of this advanced seminar aims to enhance the capacity of lecturers and researchers to teach and research international humanitarian law (IHL) contemporary issues, addressing both substantive and pedagogical aspects.

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Non-Kinetic-Energy Weapons

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Non-kinetic-energy (NKE) weapons inflict harm through the emission of different forms of radiation or sound, diffusion of chemical or biological agents or transmission of electricity, rather than the application of kinetic energy possessed by a fragment, bullet or other projectile.

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South Sudan, Warrab. An ICRC information session on the Law of Armed Conflict with soldiers from Warrab State. Project

Armed Non-State Actors and the Human Rights Council

Completed in January 2015

Launched in 2016, this project aimed to identify whether, to what extent and under what circumstances armed non-state actors incur obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights (HR) law.

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