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

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

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

Download >

NEWS

News

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

9 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 >

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

The press is briefed by the representatives of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Palais des Nations. 5 September 2018 Event

International Humanitarian Law in the Work of United Nations Human Rights Bodies

November 2018, 13:15-14:45

This panel will focus on the practicalities of how international humanitarian law is used and the role it plays in the work of the UN human rights machinery.

Read more

Homs (Syria), Homs. Destroyed buildings. Event

Forced Displacement and Demographic Engineering in Syria

November 2018, 17:30-19:00

In the context of the 2018 Geneva Peace Week and in partnership with the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), this event will address forced displacement and demographic engineering in Syria.

Read more

Syria,  Aleppo, great Umayyad mosque. Destructions. Short Course

The Interplay between International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

25 January - February 2019

This short course focuses on the specific issues that arise in times of armed conflict regarding the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. It addresses key issues like the applicability of human rights in times of armed conflict; the possibilities of restricting human rights under systems of limitations and derogations; and the extraterritorial application of human rights law.

Read more

An aerial view of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), which have appeared following latest attacks by M23 rebels and other armed groups in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Short Course

International Refugee Law

8 March - April 2019

This short course analyses the main international and regional norms governing the international protection of refugees. It notably examines the sources of international refugee law, including the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and their interaction with human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Read more

Séléka rebels patrol in the town of Bria, Central African Republic (CAR). Project

Human Rights Responsibilities and Armed Non-State Actors

Started in June 2018

This research aims at building a common understanding and vision as to how states and the relevant parts of the UN system can provide a concrete and practical framework to address human rights responsibilities of armed non-state actors.

Read more

Central African Republic, Ouham province, village of Ouogo. International Humanitarian Law dissemination session to members of the Peoples' Army for the Restoration of Democracy. Project

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms

Started in January 2017

This project aims at compiling and analysing the practice and interpretation of selected international humanitarian law and human rights norms by armed non-state actors (ANSAs). It has a pragmatic double objective: first, to offer a comparative analysis of IHL and human rights norms from the perspective of ANSAs, and second, to inform strategies of humanitarian engagement with ANSAs, in particular the content of a possible ‘Model Code of Conduct’.

Read more