Autonomous Weapon Systems under International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law

Completed in May 2017

Would the use of weapon systems that can detect, select and fire at targets without human intervention comply with international legal standards for the protection of the human person, and if so, under what circumstances? This is one of the key questions in the current debate about autonomous weapon systems (AWS), also called ‘killer robots’, weapon systems that by some definitions don’t yet exist.

This project examined the legal requirements that the use of AWS would need to comply with in a number of scenarios envisaged by proponents of increasing autonomy in weapon systems.

It looked beyond compliance with the international humanitarian law (IHL) rules on targeting and also examines other rules of IHL and international human rights law, including standards on the use of force for law enforcement purposes.

Drawing on case law dealing with other weapon technologies and autonomous systems, it asks in particular: Who or what may force be directed at? Where and when may AWS be used? What are the procedural legal requirements in terms of the planning, conduct and aftermath of AWS use?

Research Team

This research project was carried out by Maya Brehm.

OUTPUT

Defending the Boundary: Constraints and Requirements on the Use of Autonomous Weapon Systems under International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law

Academy Briefing No.9 Defending the Boundary analyzes the constraints and requirements on the use of autonomous weapon systems (AWS), also called ‘killer robots’, under international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). Drawing on case law dealing with other weapon technologies and autonomous systems, it asks where and when AWS may be used, and what the procedural legal requirements are in terms of the planning, conduct and aftermath of AWS use.

A Research Brief for Policy Makers and Advocacy Groups

A Research Brief of Academy Briefing No.9 provides policy makers and advocacy groups with a summary of key findings.

Publications

Cover of Briefing N°9: Defending the boundary

Briefing N°9: Defending the Boundary

May 2017

Maya Brehm

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Download > Download >

Cover of the Briefing No8: Autonomous Weapons Systems Under International Law

Briefing N°8: Autonomous Weapons Systems Under International Law

November 2014

Milena Costas Trascasas, Nathalie Weizmann

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Download >

NEWS AND EVENTS

News

Autonomous Weapon Systems: Legality under International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

9 May 2017

Our new publication Defending the Boundary analyses the constraints and requirements on the use of autonomous weapon systems (AWS), also called ‘killer robots’, under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Read more >

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Virginia Raffaelli before the Grand Théâtre in Geneva News

LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights: What our Alumni Say

9 February 2021

Virginia Raffaeli is a Research Officer for the Geopolitics and Global Futures Programme at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. In this interview, she tells about the programme and what it brought to her career. 

Read more

Aerial view of the mountains in the Tigray region, Ethiopia News

A Non-International Armed Conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

21 January 2021

Our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal provides a detailed analysis of this conflict, including information about parties, classification and applicable international law.

Read more

View of Villa Moynier Event

Open House: Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict

16 June 2021, 12:30-13:30

Join us for our open house to learn more about this part-time programme designed professionals, meet staff, students and alumni, and discuss career opportunities.

Read more

Ukraine, damaged bicycle and car in front of a destroyed building Short Course

Protection of Persons and Property in International Armed Conflict

Fall 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, examines the conduct of hostilities in situations of international armed conflict, also known as the Law of The Hague.

Read more

An aerial view of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), which have appeared following latest attacks by M23 rebels and other armed groups in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Short Course

International Refugee Law

30 April - 21 May 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, analyses the main international and regional norms governing the international protection of refugees. It notably examines the sources of international refugee law, including the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and their interaction with human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Read more

Screen Shot of Obsolete, a game made for the 7DFPS project in 7 days. Download for PC and Mac Project

Disruptive Military Technologies

Started in February 2020

Via a new lecture series on disruptive military technologies, this project aims at staying abreast of the various military technology trends; promoting legal and policy debate on new military technologies; and furthering the understanding of the convergent effects of different technological trends shaping the digital battlefield of the future.

Read more

Computer screen with warning: civilian infrastucture: do not attack Project

Digitalization of Conflict Joint Initiative: Humanitarian Impact and Legal Protection

Started in September 2020

This project will explore humanitarian consequences and protection needs caused by the digitalization of armed conflicts and the extent to which these needs are addressed by international law, especially international humanitarian law.

Read more

cover of the publication Publication

Military Briefing: Persons with Disabilities and Armed Conflict

published on March 2021

Alice Priddy

Read more

Cover page of the Briefing Publication

Room for Manoeuvre? Promoting International Humanitarian Law and Accountability While at the United Nations Security Council: A Reflection on the Role of Elected Members

published on October 2020

Émilie Max

Read more