Statements by Sri Lanka at the Meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts on Emerging Technologies in the areas of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems during 21-25 September 2020

Statements Delivered by Sri Lanka at the Meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts (GCE) on Emerging Technologies in the areas of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) held in Geneva on from 21-25 September 2020.

 

Agenda Item : 5(a) An exploration of the potential challenges posed by emerging technologies in the area of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems to International Humanitarian Law;

Mr. Chair,

Excellencies, Distinguished participants,

At the outset, Sri Lanka would like to congratulate you on your assumption of the Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Emerging Technologies in the Field of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). We also take this opportunity to appreciate the former Chair of the GGE on LAWS Ambassador Kārkliņš, for his commitment and efforts to continue the momentum. Let me assure you Mr. Chair, of the support of our delegation to the continuation of substantive deliberations in the GGE on LAWS during this year and in 2021.

It is unfortunate that the unexpected circumstances during this year as well as the difficulty to reach consensus on key aspects of the GGE have led to a lack of substantive progress that many of us would have expected to achieve.

Mr. Chair,

As already stressed in our previous statements in this forum, in our view, it is impossible for an autonomous weapon system to be in compliance with the legal rules of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack as required by IHL. While many States have stressed the importance of any new weapon, means or method of warfare to be in compliance with the principles of the IHL, the pertinent question, in our view, is not whether the laws governing armed conflicts should apply in case of autonomous weapon systems but rather how exactly they should be applied and compliance therewith ensured.

The question whether existing IHL principles are sufficient to govern emerging advanced autonomous technology in weapon systems is also a matter of concern. We believe that considered and carefully calculated decisions on distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack which a human mind is capable of making in a specific conflict environment cannot be expected to be replicated by a machine. Even if it does, it would raise serious ethical and moral considerations and would still challenge the fundamental principles of humanity. The willingness of programmers of autonomous weapon systems to ensure compliance with the existing legal norms and principles is another concern.

Mr. Chair, it is indeed disconcerting to note that the discussion on LAWS no longer refers to the futuristic nature of these autonomous weapon systems, indicating the possibility that we may already be too late to call for a preemptive intervention in this regard.

Sri Lanka takes note in this context of the 2019 Report of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) and the endorsement of the 11 guiding principles by the GGE, as contained in the Report of the Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the CCW held in November 2019. While the guiding principles may provide a basis for common understanding and a starting point for further elaboration and development, they should not be considered as a process in itself. The Guiding Principles are not meant to be, nor sufficient enough to be the regulatory framework that we seek to put in place to address the complex issues relating to LAWS. A more specific, and substantive legal instrument stipulating clear limitation, both prohibitive and permissive depending on a consensual outcome achieved and positive obligations on States on development and operation of autonomous weapon systems, should be the requirement that we must work towards fulfilling.


Agenda Item : 5 (e) Possible options for addressing the humanitarian and international security challenges                posed by emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems in the context of the objectives and purposes of the Convention without prejudging policy outcomes and taking into account past, present and future proposals
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The thinking that compliance with IHL could be ensured through legal review, pursuant to Art. 36 of Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1977, as referred to by some stakeholders, must, in our opinion, be examined with caution. Art. 36 imposes a legal obligation on State Parties to ensure that, in case of study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon, means or method of warfare, such employment is in compliance with international law. Art. 36 however does not prescribe how the review is to be conducted. This is the reason why a legal review by a State will not suffice to ensure the compliance of a complex autonomous weapon system with international law. Issues of transparency and consistency are some of the main reasons why an Art, 36 review, while an important legal requirement, may not, by itself, be sufficient in the context LAWS. In this regard, we encourage States that have experience in conducting legal reviews of autonomous weapon systems to share their views and understanding on the way in which human control is retained to ensure legality and on the degree of autonomy that is considered in the process.

Another important aspect that we would like to bring to the forefront of deliberations is the relevance of International Human Rights Law to autonomous weapon systems. Use of autonomous technology in civil operations outside a conflict environment is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. Furthermore, a machine deciding on its own the end of a human life, poses the inevitable question of the right to life and the right to human dignity. While military precision is often cited as an advantage of using autonomous weapon systems in conflict, the real issue however is, irrespective of how precise the target may be, whether it is appropriate to leave a machine to decide on the life and death of a human being. The ethical and moral element of the debate is one of the fundamental, if not the most important aspects of this discussion.

Mr. Chair,

Sri Lanka reiterates its consistent position that a focused and serious discussion on LAWS within the framework of the CCW is of utmost importance and a priority in the context of the prevailing international security landscape. Sri Lanka worked with commitment towards this objective during its Presidency of the CCW in 2015, which led to the enhancement of the mandate of the Meeting of Experts on LAWS. The apparent lack of political will to pursue meaningful discussions and reach agreement specially on the fundamental issue of an agreed definition on LAWS, leaves much to be desired.

The thinking that compliance with IHL could be ensured through legal review, pursuant to Art. 36 of Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1977, as referred to by some stakeholders, must, in our opinion, be examined with caution. Art. 36 imposes a legal obligation on State Parties to ensure that, in case of study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon, means or method of warfare, such employment is in compliance with international law. Art. 36 however does not prescribe how the review is to be conducted. This is the reason why a legal review by a State will not suffice to ensure the compliance of a complex autonomous weapon system with international law. Issues of transparency and consistency are some of the main reasons why an Art, 36 review, while an important legal requirement, may not, by itself, be sufficient in the context LAWS. In this regard, we encourage States that have experience in conducting legal reviews of autonomous weapon systems to share their views and understanding on the way in which human control is retained to ensure legality and on the degree of autonomy that is considered in the process.

Peaceful use of autonomous technology is a matter that has been pointed out by many delegations including by our own at previous GGE meetings and in other relevant fora. It is our view, however, that it is now time for our deliberations to move beyond this aspect where there appears to be common understanding, i.e. on the benefit of development and use of artificial intelligence to achieve and progress human development, and channel our deliberations, time and energy to the development of a legally binding instrument on the development of similar technology on weapon systems for military purposes.

In conclusion, Mr. Chair, we wish to reiterate that negotiating a new legally binding instrument to address specific issues related to autonomous weapon systems is an urgent necessity, and a true test of the ability of the CCW framework itself to address fast emerging humanitarian as well as security concerns. We owe it to our own children and humanity that the world is left a safer and more humane place. Decisions on life are too important to be left to the blunt expedient of a mechanical judgement.

 

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