Archbishop Desmond Tutu is among more than 70 religious leaders, representatives and faith based organisations that have signed the interreligious declaration calling on states to work towards a global ban on fully autonomous weapons.
The declaration is an initiative of the Dutch peace organisation PAX in cooperation with Pax Christi International. A large number of scientists and Nobel peace laureates have also called for a ban on these weapons, also called Killer Robots. On the 13th and 14th of November the issue will be discussed at the Convention of Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the United Nations in Geneva.
"This interreligious declaration clearly shows that concerns about the development of killer robots are widely shared within society", says Miriam Struyk, programme director Security and Disarmament at PAX. "It is a very worrying idea that there are weapons being developed that might be able to select targets and decide to attack without any human intervention. We need to take a serious look at the trend of automation of warfare. Weapons that operate without meaningful human intervention go against human dignity."
Other objections are that autonomous weapon systems cannot distinguish between soldiers or civilians, or judge whether an action is proportional. States will most likely deploy these weapons more easily, as they do not have to worry about sacrificing troops. For people in conflict areas the fear of these weapons and the potential for indiscriminate attack, will be enormous. Proliferation of these weapons systems could spin out of control easily. Without meaningful human control, the question remains - who will be responsible for the actions of these robots?
Mandate for 2015
For the leaders of various religious denominations these concerns were the reason to sign the call to government leaders. The interreligious declaration is part of the Stop Killer Robots campaign that was co-founded by PAX in 2013. Together with more than fifty other organisations from twenty five countries the Dutch peace movement works to stop the development of fully autonomous weapons systems. The campaign calls on states to develop national policies and to work towards an international ban. The first expert meeting took place during the May 2014 Convention of Conventional Weapons (CCW) where over eighty states discussed the ethical, legal and operational aspects of these weapons. The forthcoming CCW meeting (13-14 November) will decide whether to continue discussions on killer robots in 2015. PAX fully supports continued discussions and calls for a stronger mandate for these talks than was the case in 2014. Struyk: "Other weapons, like landmines and cluster munitions, weren't banned until it became clear what horrific effects they had. Now we have the chance to ban killer robots before they become reality. Together with religious leaders, scientists, Nobel laureates and other concerned people we call on government leaders: Stop killer robots before it is too late."
A pre-emptive ban
To stress the importance for further debate and an international ban PAX and Pax Christi International will launch the interfaith declaration at the CCW in Geneva on the 13th of November. José Henríquez, Secretary General of Pax Christi International: "This declaration clearly voices the concerns of religious communities regarding warfare without human control. The declaration, as it will be presented, is a start and more signees are expected in the coming months. It is not about what technology is capable of doing, but about what we want to use technology for. People from various religious denominations clearly state that there is an ethical line that may be crossed. A pre-emptive ban is necessary before the process is irreversible."
See who signed the Interfaith Declaration
Read the Interfaith Declaration in support of a Ban on Fully Autonomous Weapons
Read more about killer robots
See also stopkillerrobots.org
You can find more information our report Deadly Decisions.