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Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) On Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS)

Subhasish writes, the definition for LAWS has not been agreed upon but it is generally understood as weapon systems that, once deployed, can select and engage targets without any human intervention.

The United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) was concluded at Geneva on 10 Oct 1980, and entered into force in Dec 1983. It seeks to prohibit or restrict the use of certain conventional weapons which are considered excessively injurious or whose effects are indiscriminate. In 2013, the CCW Meeting of State Parties decided that an informal Meeting of Experts will be convened to discuss the questions related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). The informal Meeting of Experts were held annually in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The definition for LAWS has not been agreed upon but it is generally understood as weapon systems that, once deployed, can select and engage targets without any human intervention. Although the technology for the deployment of autonomous weapons has still not matured, disarmament activists feel that international conventions need to be put in place for either a ban on such weapon systems or an agreement for human intervention in operation of these systems.

At the 5th CCW Review Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the CCW held in Dec 2016, the High Contracting Parties decided to establish an open-ended Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on LAWS to meet in 2017 with a mandate to assess questions related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems. The GGE met from 13 to 17 Nov 2017 at Geneva and the meeting was chaired by Amandeep Singh Gill, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to the Conference on Disarmament. Participation at the meeting was from a wide array of stakeholders, including 91 of the Convention’s 125 High Contracting Parties, as well as representatives of international organisations, non-governmental organisations, academia, industry and civil society.

The report of the 2017 GGE was presented at the CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties held from 22 to 24 November 2017. It was decided that the deliberations of the GGE will continue in 2018 under the chairmanship of Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill. Two week-long meetings are planned subject to availability of funds.

The salient points of the GGE report are as follows:-

  1. The Group held expert-led panel discussions on the following dimensions – technology, military effects, legal/ethical and cross-cutting issues.
  1. CCW offers an appropriate framework for dealing with the issue of emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.
  1. International humanitarian law continues to apply fully to all weapons systems, including the potential development and use of lethal autonomous weapons systems.
  1. Responsibility for the deployment of any weapons system in armed conflict remains with States.
  1. The Group’s efforts in the context of its mandate should not hamper progress in or access to civilian research and development and use of these technologies in the area of intelligent autonomous systems.
  1. There would be a need to keep potential military applications of related technologies under review.
  1.  Focus the next stage of the Group’s discussions on the characterization of the systems under consideration in order to promote a common understanding on concepts and characteristics relevant to the objectives and purposes of the CCW.
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