U.N. Group of Government Experts Continues Discussions on Technical Issues Related to the Use of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

  • On March 25-29 2019, the U.N.’s Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) met for the third consecutive year to discuss developments and strategies in the field of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). It will reconvene for discussions from 20 to 21 August 2019. 

  • GGE is a subsidiary body of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) that coordinates efforts to define LAWS, debate best practices, and recommend steps to address the potential development and use of LAWS in the future. This past session, the GGE’s agenda focused on the potential challenges to international humanitarian law (IHL) posed by LAWS.

  • The GGE on LAWS is open to all High Contracting Parties and non-parties (who may participate as observers) of CCW.  

  • Many developing States have played an active role in GGE discussions thus far. Several, including Algeria, El Salvador, Ghana, and Peru, have voiced support for a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons. In 2018, the Non-Aligned MovementArgentina, and Brazil submitted working papers. Costa Rica, Panama, and Cuba pushed back on arguments by the United States and Russia that international human rights law does not necessarily apply to LAWS. India chaired the GGE in 2017 and 2018. 

  • Yet, developed States from the Global North continue to drive discussions at the GGE, which tend to center on working papers submitted by developed States. By way of illustration, the March 2019 GGE meetings spotlighted working papers submitted by the Russian Federation, Australia, Japan, Belgium, Ireland, and Luxembourg. 

  • Participation in the GGE presents an important opportunity for developing States to voice their concerns and contribute to the progressive development of international law. As Pakistan claims, LAWS are most likely to be used in the Global South. Accordingly, developing States’ perspectives are vital for an informed legal debate.

  • In addition to attending meetings and submitting working papers, developing States may engage with the GGE in several ways. For example, they may issue position statements; contribute to studies by the ICRC or other influential non-governmental actors; or influence global standards by adopting domestic regulations that comprehensively address the development and use of LAWS. 

For more information, see GGE’s website.