People's Stories Peace

A critical opportunity to ban killer robots – while we still can
by Amnesty, Campaign to Stop Killer Robots
Nov. 2021
Amnesty International and the Stop Killer Robots campaign have unveiled a social media filter which provides a terrifying glimpse of the future of war, policing and border control. Escape the Scan, a filter for Instagram and Facebook, is part of a major campaign calling for a new international law to ban autonomous weapons systems.
It uses augmented reality (AR) technology to depict aspects of weapons systems that are already in development, such as facial recognition, movement sensors, and the ability to launch attacks on ‘targets’ without meaningful human control.
Several countries are investing heavily in the development of autonomous weapons, despite the devastating human rights implications of giving machines control over the use of force.
In December, a group of UN experts will meet to decide whether to begin negotiating new international law on autonomy in weapons systems. Amnesty International and Stop Killer Robots have launched a petition calling on all governments to voice their support for negotiations.
“We are stumbling into a nightmare scenario, a world where drones and other advanced weapons can choose and attack targets without human control. This filter is designed to give people an idea of what killer robots could soon be capable of, and show why we must act urgently to maintain human control over the use of force,” said Verity Coyle, Amnesty International’s Senior Advisor on Military, Security and Policing.
“Allowing machines to make life-or-death decisions is an assault on human dignity, and will likely result in devastating violations of the laws of war and human rights. It will also intensify the digital dehumanisation of society, reducing people to data points to be processed. We need a robust, legally binding international treaty to stop the proliferation of killer robots – before it’s too late.”
“We have had a decade of talks on autonomous weapons at the United Nations, but these are being blocked by the same states that are developing the weapons,” said Ousman Noor of the Stop Killer Robots campaign.
“The UN Secretary General, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Nobel Prize Winners, thousands of scientists, roboticists and tech workers, are all calling for a legal treaty to prevent these weapons – governments need to draw a line against machines that can choose to kill.”
On 2 December 2021, the Group of Governmental Experts to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) will begin critical talks on whether to proceed with negotiations on a new treaty to address the threat posed by killer robots. So far 66 states have called for a new, legally binding framework on autonomy in weapons systems.
But progress has been stalled by a small number of powerful states, including Russia, Israel and the US, who regard the creation of a new international law as premature.
The replacement of troops with machines will make the decision to go to war easier. What’s more, machines can’t make complex ethical choices within the context of unpredictable battlefield or real world scenarios; there is no substitute for human decision making.
We have already seen how technologies like facial, emotion, gait and vocal recognition fail to recognize women, people of colour and persons with disabilities; and how they cause immense human rights harms even when they “work”. Employing these technologies on the battlefield, in law enforcement or border control would be disastrous.
Despite these concerns, countries including the US, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, Australia, India, Turkey and the UK are investing heavily in the development of autonomous systems.
For example, the UK is developing an unmanned drone which can fly in autonomous mode and identify a target within a programmed area. China is creating small drone “swarms” which could be programmed to attack anything that emits a body temperature, while Russia has built a robot tank which can be fitted with a machine gun or grenade launcher.
Stop Killer Robots is a global coalition of more than 180 international, regional, and national NGOs and academic partners working across 66 countries to ensure meaningful human control over the use of force through the development of new international law. Amnesty International is one of nine organizations on the coalition’s steering committee.

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51 million people are internally displaced by conflict and violence
by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
Nov. 2021
The trend in rising forced displacement continued into 2021 – with global numbers now exceeding 84 million – as more people fled violence, insecurity and the effects of climate change, according to the Mid-Year Trends report released today by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
The report, for January-June 2021, showed an increase from 82.4 million at end 2020. This resulted largely from internal displacement, with more people fleeing multiple active conflicts around the world, especially in Africa. The report also noted that COVID-19 border restrictions continued to limit access to asylum in many locations.
“The international community is failing to prevent violence, persecution and human rights violations, which continue to drive people from their homes,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “In addition, the effects of climate change are exacerbating existing vulnerabilities in many areas hosting the forcibly displaced”.
Nearly 51 million people are now internally displaced, as conflict and violence flared around the world during the first half of 2021. Much of the new internal displacement was in Africa, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1.3 million) and in Ethiopia (1.2 million). Violence in Myanmar and Afghanistan also forced people from their homes between January-June 2021.
The number of refugees also continued to increase during the first half of 2021, reaching nearly 21 million. Most new refugees came from five countries: Central African Republic (71,800), South Sudan (61,700) Syria (38,800), Afghanistan (25,200) and Nigeria (20,300).
The lethal mix of conflict, COVID-19, poverty, food insecurity and the climate emergency has compounded the humanitarian plight of the displaced, most of whom are hosted in developing regions.
Solutions for forcibly displaced populations remain in short supply. Under 1 million internally displaced people and 126,700 refugees were able to return home in the first half of 2021.
“The international community must redouble its efforts to make peace, and at the same time must ensure resources are available to displaced communities and their hosts. It is the communities and countries with the fewest resources that continue to shoulder the greatest burden in protecting and caring for the forcibly displaced, and they must be better supported by the rest of the international community,” Grandi added.

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