Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace

Discussion on Killer Robots: Preventing Killing Without Compassion?

19 November 2015

Killer robots, or lethal autonomous weapon systems as they are often called, are weapons with autonomous capabilities that enable them to independently search, target and attack a person or an object. These weapon systems do not only raise numerous concerns relating to technology, morality, legality and policy-making, but touch upon larger concepts such as the future of modern warfare.

Machines cannot feel compassion, relate or regret; they neither have a judgement nor a moral conscience. If the decision to take a human life is left to a cold-hearted machine we risk creating wars even more inhumane and cruel than the ones we see today. Additionally, these highly technical inventions are vulnerable to a number of different malfunctions including system failures, cyber attacks and human errors making them especially dangerous.

Since 2013 the High Contracting Parties of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) have taken an interest in the debate on killer robots. Originating from 1980, it is also known as the “Inhumane Weapons Convention” and aims to prevent the use of weapons that would cause unnecessary harm to combatants or civilians. Due to it’s flexibility many see the CCW as an appropriate forum for further discussions on the nature, effect and legality of killer robots. However, the challenges raised by the autonomous weapons systems require the international community to act in multiple forums. Killer robots also raises questions in regards to human rights protection, which was highlighted in a report on “lethal autonomous robotics” by the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions to the Human Rights Council.

This year’s CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties took place in Geneva last week, on the 12 – 13 November 2015. Killer robots were a highly debated topic and many states shared their concerns and perspectives on the growing challenges. In addition, a number of side events during this week explored various related topics including SIPRI’s side event on the legal aspects, UNIDIR’s side event on economic drivers, maritime autonomous weapons and cyber weapons as well as the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots‘ side event on the role of civil society.

An interesting aspect growing from the debates on killer robots is the concept of meaningful human control. Many representatives at this year’s CCW meeting from civil society as well as the ICRC and a number of states, including Ireland, Mexico, Croatia and China noted the usefulness of having such a concept when discussing increasingly autonomous weapons. Other states such as Israel and the United States remained sceptical and suggested that the term was too vague and could be interpreted too narrowly. The United States argued that it would be more useful to talk about “human judgement” instead as a guideline.

The legal aspect of killer robots was especially focused on during the CCW meetings. One of the main legal concern raised was whether a machine would be able to comply with some of the core principles of international humanitarian law such as distinction and proportionality. Would a machine detect when a combatant is just about to surrender or tell the difference between an active combatant from an injured or sick one?

A second legal concern related to the implementation of the Article 36 reviews, found in Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Convention. It requires states to make assessments of new weapons or methods of warfare and it’s ability to comply with international humanitarian law, before developing or acquiring them. Some states, such as the United States and Russia, suggested that the law was sufficient in regulating autonomous weapons, while other states including China, Cuba, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, explicitly called for a new international instrument banning their development.

The best way of ensuring a world free from killer robots is to prevent them from ever being developed. Therefore we call on states to preemptively ban these inhumane, illegal, immoral and destabilising weapon systems.

Read more about killer weapons and our report from this year’s CCW.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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