ICRC president statement to the Regional Conference on the Social and Humanitarian Impact of Autonomous Weapons, Costa Rica
Dear First Vice President, dear Minister,
Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,
The International Committee of the Red Cross is encouraged by this gathering of Latin American and Caribbean States to tackle one of the most pressing humanitarian concerns for the future of armed conflict.
The unconstrained use of autonomous weapons risks the loss of control over the use of force. It could cause serious harm for civilians and those no longer fighting, and would undermine the ability of those fighting to abide by the rules and constraints of international humanitarian law.
How will civilians, or injured soldiers, remain protected if weapon users no longer control who will be killed or what will be destroyed?
There is also the fundamental challenge that autonomous weapons pose to our values, to our shared humanity. Should we tolerate a world in which conscious decisions about human life are replaced with machine calculations? Are we willing to accept the deployment of weapons that fire themselves, triggered by artificial intelligence software that writes itself?
Autonomous weapons in conflicts are no longer an issue for tomorrow. These questions represent an urgent humanitarian priority today, and States must act now to address them through the negotiation of new legally binding international rules.
Such rules should specifically prohibit unpredictable autonomous weapons and autonomous weapons designed or used to target humans directly. For other autonomous weapons, these rules should include strict constraints on their development and use.
Despite a lack of progress after nine years of discussions in Geneva at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, most States, including many from this region, have expressed support for creating legally binding rules.
What is needed now is principled political leadership to translate these national commitments into prompt action at the international level, and here I believe Latin American and Caribbean States have an important role to play.
Many of you have played an essential part in humanitarian-driven processes to establish necessary prohibitions and restrictions on weapons and their transfer, such as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Arms Trade Treaty. You have helped ensure that the prohibition of cluster munitions was not undermined by the adoption of weaker standards at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
The ICRC is confident that you will now help find a way to craft an effective international response to autonomous weapons that is commensurate with the serious humanitarian concerns they pose.
I wish you well for this important conference, and I urge you to agree a strong regional commitment by Latin American and Caribbean States to negotiate and adopt a new legally binding instrument on autonomous weapons.