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Killer robots used by police agencies a new UN focus

As the world's weapons systems become more and more sophisticated and less and less expensive, the concept of killer robots will move from sci-fi books and movies onto the United Nations' agenda during an international meeting of experts on Tuesday in Geneva, Austria. Of particular interest is the use of these systems by police forces, especially by watchdog groups such as Human Rights Watch.

While robots are still being controlled by humans, it won't be long before they will be able to "think" for themselves on battlefields or city streets.
Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch

The gathering of representatives from numerous countries will encourage debate over the question: once created will these autonomous weapons add to the already numerous threats facing the Earth's people?

Although completely autonomous weapons remain on the "drawing board" for now, technological advances are being made in leaps and bounds, according to non-governmental groups (NGO's) such as Human Rights Watch.

Fully autonomous weapons systems, or “killer robots,” whether used in a military conflict or by law enforcement to battle organized crime gangs or Muslim terrorists, may be detrimental to preserving the human rights in an already dangerous world, said in an HRW report released Monday, the day before the United Nations' Geneva conference.

The report, Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots, is said to be the first report addressing "the risks posed by these weapons during law enforcement operations, expanding the debate beyond the battlefield." Human Rights Watch officials claim they found that fully autonomous weapons will prove themselves to be a threat to human rights and civil liberties as acknowledged by international law to be a fundamental right to life, the right to legal remedy, and the recognition of human dignity.

“In policing, as well as war, human judgment is critically important to any decision to use a lethal weapon,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments need to say no to fully autonomous weapons for any purpose and to preemptively ban them now, before it is too late.”

"International debate over fully autonomous weapons has previously focused on their potential role in armed conflict and questions over whether they would be able to comply with international humanitarian law, also called the laws of war. Human Rights Watch, in the new report, examines the potential impact of fully autonomous weapons under human rights law, which applies during peacetime as well as armed conflict," according to the HRW report..

The release of the report, which was a collaboration between HRW in New York City and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, coincides with the United Nations' meeting on these dramatically labeled "killer robots" weapons systems. The May 13 to 16, 2014 conference is expected to bring together members of the convention agreed upon during their meeting in November 2013.

Certain to top the list of so-called "killer robots" are unmanned aerial systems (UAVs) commonly known as drones. However, thus far even these robotic devices must be controlled by a human being, in most cases a member of the military or a police officer.