Religious leaders are calling for a ban on killer robots

20141118 Pax Christi José HenriquezGood news! Last week nations made the important decision at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the UN in Geneva to continue their deliberations on Fully Autonomous Weapons Systems in 2015. This is an important step and it acknowledges the broad consensus that there is an urgent need to discuss the many concerns surrounding these weapons.

By Miriam Struyk

From 13 – 17th of April 2015 nations will convene for an up to five-day informal meeting of experts, to “discuss the questions related to emerging technologies in the are of lethal autonomous weapons systems, in the context of the objectives and purposes of the convention”. For those less familiar with the CCW, the purpose of the convention is to ban or restrict the use of specific types of weapons that are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately. This means the discussions should go into the question if fully autonomous weapons should be banned based on these grounds.

Besides the legal and operational concerns related to these weapons there are also moral concerns within society related to these weapons. The interfaith declaration of religious leaders and organisations that was presented at a side-event at the CCW clearly demonstrates this. The interfaith declaration was an initiative of PAX and Pax Christi International and has already been signed by over 70 religious leaders and organisations, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. José Henriquéz of Pax Christi International held a speech on behalf of religious leaders, calling for a pre-emptive ban on killer robots. Below are some excerpts of his speech:

“For religious leaders the ethical concerns arise from core values and principles of their faith traditions regarding human life.  For Christians, human life is sacred and the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Devotion to being harmless is a core principle of Buddhist religious life and the principle of non-harming is absolute in regard to killing. Islam considers all life forms as sacred; however, the sanctity of human life is accorded a special place. …

Human dignity is also at stake here. Killer robots are another step in what many see as a dehumanizing trend in warfare. Killing from the distance, killing using software programmed to kill, engaging targets as mere objects; all that is presented as a normal evolution in the technologization of war, which sometimes resembles – and is becoming familiar through, the gamification of violence and war. The message and the engagement of religious leaders and faith-based institutions remind us that the value and dignity of human life should be fully respected. …

If the ethical standards of societies have to be measured on the way they threaten or enhance the life and dignity of the human person, this is not going in the right direction.”

We fully support his concerns and believe the discussion regarding fully autonomous weapons is not just a legal and tactical one. The moral concerns should be at the core of any discussion regarding these weapons. Are we really willing to allow decisions on death and life from computerized systems? Or do we want to keep meaningful human control over weapon systems, and if yes how do we do so?

Let’s hope that 2015 will bring us closer to answers on these questions and ultimately to a ban.

More information:

PAX_Logo_EN_WithSlogan_WEB_FCPAX means peace. PAX brings together people who have the courage to stand for peace. Together with people in conflict areas and concerned citizens worldwide, PAX works to build just and peaceful societies across the globe. Read more about PAX on www.paxforpeace.nl.
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