Challenges raised by increasingly autonomous technologies


About the event

The 24th of June 2014 was a day dedicated to the victims of armed conflicts in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the first Geneva Convention. On this occasion, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland and the ICRC organized an expert panel at the Maison de la Paix. The event was part of ICRC Research and debate cycle on new technologies and the modern battlespace.

Only a few states are known to have used unmanned armed drones but an increasing number is seeking to acquire this technology. Although technological progresses have spurred the development of increasingly autonomous weapons, the precise delineation between an armed drone and a fully autonomous weapon system (sometimes termed a 'killer robot') is unclear.

Armed drones are widely seen as the beginning of a trend that will lead to the use of systems capable of targeting and killing one or more persons with complete autonomy from human intervention. On the other hand, non-armed drones are used to assist humanitarian action in the field and unarmed surveillance drones are used for civilian rescue and law enforcement. At the same time, in the same countries, both armed drones and increasingly automated drones are being acquired by armies and potentially by armed non-state actors for use in combat.

Opening remarks

  • Ambassador Valentin Zellweger, Head of the Directorate of Public International Law and Legal Advisor of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland


  • Ms. Christine Beerli, Vice-President, International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Major General Adrian John Foster, United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations
  • Professor Dario Floreano, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
  • Ms. Mona Rishmawi, Chief of the Rule of Law and Equality Branch, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Mr. Josh Lyons, Satellite Imagery Analyst, Human Rights Watch


  • Professor Andrew Clapham, Director, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Professor, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

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