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Killer Robots Make Their Way to the Human Rights Council

16 June 2014

Last month, nations discussed the emerging challenges pose by the increased autonomy of weaponry systems at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), while this month the matter is being considered by the 26th session of the Human Rights Council with the presentation of a new report by Professor Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

WILPF hosted a briefing on behalf of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots to make sure that the Human Rights Council is informed on the discussion that took place during the CCW – which is an instrument of international humanitarian law that applies only to armed conflict – and to reflect on why it is important that killer robots is on the human rights agenda, as Human Rights are to be respected and protected both during armed conflict and peacetime.

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Beatrice Fihn of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) moderated a panel, featuring remarks byAmbassador Simon-Michel of France, chair of the CCW, Professor Heyns, Kathleen Lawand from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Richard Moyes of Article 36, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots together with WILPF.


During the CCW a number of countries noted the relevance of international human rights law in their statements, including Croatia, Egypt, the Holy Sea, Mexico, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. Brazil commented that the CCW process on autonomous weapons shouldn’t preclude other UN bodies, such as the Human Rights Council, from taking action in accordance with their mandates.

Ambassador Simon-Michel of France, presented an overview of the main topics discussed during the Informal Meeting, pointing out how the overall discussion over technical aspects – particularly related to the distinction between automatism and autonomy in weapons systems – was first tabled in order to better frame the concerns on ethical, sociological and operational dimensions.

The CCW can be seen as an initial success, given the general agreement of states to further continue the discussion on fully autonomous weapons in November 2014.


The UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns observed that the discussion on killer robots should begin by reflecting on what he believes is most at stake with these weaponry systems: the use of force in connection with machines’ autonomous decisions. As he previously noted during the CCW, decisions taken by machines are inherently inhuman.

Moreover, killer robots have far-reaching potential implications for human rights, as their use would threaten to violate the most fundamental rights, such as the right to life, the right to remedy and the underlying principle of human dignity. These are not to mention the right to security, or the socio-economic rights that can be indirectly affected by the threat of killer robots attacks.


Richard Moyes from Article 36, co-funder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, focused his intervention on ‘meaningful human control’, a key concept that arose during the CCW discussion.

The idea of meaningful human control over life and death decisions involves more than the mindless pressing of a button in response to machine-processed information. Targets being represented in data and analyzed by sensors lead to the question: how much human judgment can be transferred into a technical system before human control ceases to be meaningful?

As International Humanitarian Law is based on the responsibility of human agents, it is crucial that human control on individual attacks is maintained. To be sure, the control exercised by a person in a ‘dark room’ is not a meaningful level of human control.

Many delegations reported in their statements to the CCW that the notion of meaningful human control could be useful to address the question of autonomy, while others said this concept requires further study. No one openly rejected it.

As ICRC concluded the meeting, the vagueness of the concept only highlights the necessity to further explore it. WILPF and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots believe that it is vital to continue the discussion with a clear reference to the notion of human control, as it could provide a basis for prohibiting weapons where this control is not possible.

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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. 

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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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