Reports  |  ,   |  August 10, 2020

Stopping Killer Robots: Country Positions on Banning Fully Autonomous Weapons and Retaining Human Control

Report researched and written by Mary Wareham, advocacy director in the arms division at Human Rights Watch. Wareham coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the international coalition of more than 160 nongovernmental organizations in 65 countries working to prohibit fully autonomous weapons and retain meaningful human control over the use of force. 63 pages.


Weapons systems that select and engage targets without meaningful human control are unacceptable and need to be prevented. All countries have a duty to protect humanity from this dangerous development by banning fully autonomous weapons. Retaining meaningful human control over the use of force is an ethical imperative, a legal necessity, and a moral obligation.

In the period since Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations launched the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in 2013, the question of how to respond to concerns over fully autonomous weapons has steadily climbed the international agenda. The challenge of killer robots, like climate change, is widely regarded as a grave threat to humanity that deserves urgent multilateral action.

A growing number of legislators, policymakers, private companies, international and domestic organizations, and ordinary individuals have endorsed the call to ban fully autonomous weapons. Since 2018, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has repeatedly urged states to prohibit weapons systems that could, by themselves, target and attack human beings, calling them “morally repugnant and politically unacceptable.”

This report shows how 97 countries have responded to this challenge and elaborated their views on lethal autonomous weapons systems since the matter was first discussed at the Human Rights Council in 2013. It surveys where these countries stand on calls to ban fully autonomous weapons and retain meaningful human control over the use of force. Such a legally binding instrument could come in the form of a new protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which has discussed this concern since 2014.6 Or, with sufficient political leadership, killer robots could be banned by a treaty negotiated via a standalone process similar to the initiatives that successfully prohibited antipersonnel landmines in 1997 and cluster munitions in 2008.

The report draws on publicly available information, including statements made in various fora, such as the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. It tracks country participation in eight CCW meetings on lethal autonomous weapons systems held at the UN in Geneva in 2014-2019. [ . . . ]

Online version: