Category Archives: Program Officer

Mines Action Canada’s intervention on Article 36 weapons reviews

Today Mines Action Canada Program Coordinator made an intervention during CCW discussions about autonomous weapons systems and weapons review processes.

Thank you Madame Chair. I would like to take this opportunity to share Mines Action Canada’s observations about Article 36 reviews.

Like many others, Mines Action Canada was concerned to learn that there was so little transparency around Article 36 weapons reviews at last year’s experts meeting. The fact that so few states were willing to discuss their weapons review process is a significant impediment to the prevention of humanitarian harm caused by new weapons. Indeed it seems that too few states actually undertake these reviews in a comprehensive manner.

Last year’s revelations concerning Article 36 reviews have made it clear that international discussions on the topic are necessary. Today is a start. States need to be more transparent in their weapons review processes. Sharing criteria and standards or setting international standards will do much to shed light on the shadowy world of arms procurement. Mines Action Canada believes that Article 36 weapons reviews should be a topic of discussion at the international level to strengthen both policy and practice around the world.

However, better weapons reviews will not solve the problems associated with autonomous weapons systems for a number of reasons.

First, there is the issue of timing. A successful international process to increase the effectiveness of weapons reviews will require a significant amount of time – time we do not have in the effort to prevent the use of autonomous weapons systems because technology is developing too rapidly.

Second, weapons reviews were designed for a very different type of weapon than autonomous weapon systems which have been called the third revolution in warfare. Autonomous weapons systems will blur the line between weapon and soldier to a level that may be beyond the ability of a weapons review process. In addition, the systemic complexity that will be required to operate such a weapons system is a far cry from the more linear processes found in current weapons.

Third, Article 36 reviews are not obligated to cover weapons used for domestic purposes outside of armed conflict such as policing, border control, or crowd control. Mines Action Canada, along with many civil society organizations and states present here, have serious concerns about the possible use of autonomous weapons systems in law enforcement and uses outside of armed conflict more generally.

Fourth and most importantly, weapons reviews cannot answer the moral questions surrounding delegating the kill decision to a machine. An Article 36 review cannot tell us if it is acceptable for an algorithm to kill without meaningful human control. And that is one of the key questions we are grappling with here this week.

Article 36 weapons reviews are a legal obligation for most of the states here. It is time for a separate effort to strengthen the standards and transparency around weapons reviews. That effort must neither distract from nor overtake our work here to deal with the real moral, legal, ethical and security problems associated with autonomous weapons systems. Weapons reviews must be supplemented by new and robust international law that clearly and deliberately puts meaningful human control at the centre of all new weapons development.

The concerns raised by autonomous weapons are urgent and must take priority. In fact, a GGE next year on autonomous weapons will greatly assist future work on weapons reviews by highlighting the many challenges new technologies pose for such reviews.

Overall, there is a need for international work to improve Article 36 reviews but there is little evidence to back up the claims of some states that weapons review processes would be sufficient to ensure that autonomous weapons systems are acceptable. Article 36 reviews are only useful once questions of the moral and ethical acceptability of a weapon have been dealt with. Until that time, it would be premature to view weapons review as a panacea to our issues here at CCW.

Thank you.

2016: A year for action

We’re almost a month into 2016 and autonomous weapons systems have already been in the news thanks to a strong panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos.  The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots was pleased to see the panel agree that the world needs a diplomatic process to pre-emptively ban autonomous weapons systems started soon. You can read the whole analysis by the Campaign’s coordinator here.

Yes 2016 is starting on a high note for the campaign but this is not the time to be complacent.  We need to keep that momentum going internationally and here in Canada. The new government has yet to share a national policy on autonomous weapons systems. Before the election, the Liberal Party of Canada wrote that:

“Emerging technologies such as Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems pose new and serious ethical questions that must be studied and understood. The Liberal Party of Canada will work with experts and civil society to ensure that the Canadian Government develops appropriate policies to address the use and proliferation of autonomous weapon systems.”

Now that the Liberals form the government, they will have to develop “appropriate policies” soon because the international community is moving forward, albeit verrrrrry slowly. States are meeting in April 2016 for a third (and hopefully final) informal experts meeting on autonomous weapons systems under the United Nations’ Convention on Conventional Weapons and then at the end of the year, states will have the opportunity to start negotiations on a pre-emptive ban. The UN process has been called “glacial” and that it “shows no sense of urgency” but there’s time for states to pick up the pace and Canada can take a leadership role.

Canadian industry, academics and NGOs have already taken a leadership role on banning autonomous weapon systems so now it’s the government’s turn. The Canadian government and Prime Minister Trudeau made a big impression at the World Economic Forum so we hope that they will take that energy forward to act on one of newist issues discussed there.  Let’s make 2016 a year of action on autonomous weapons systems.

Video Contest Launched

**CONTEST IS NOW INTERNATIONAL – STUDENTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD WELCOME TO ENTER**

Mines Action Canada is launching a Keep Killer Robots Fiction video contest for students.  We are inviting students from  across Canada around the world to make and submit 2 minute video on the theme of “Keep Killer Robots Fiction“.

What is the purpose?  The purpose of this competition is to find new, compelling and provocative ways to start a conversation in the public about autonomous weapons systems.  Autonomous weapons systems or killer robots are future weapons that can select and fire upon targets without human control.

Killer robots have been a staple trope in fiction and entertainment for years.  Over the past decade, the possibility of fully autonomous weapons is becoming closer to reality. Recently we have seen a dramatic rise in unmanned weapons that has changed the face of warfare. New technology is permitting serious efforts to develop fully autonomous weapons. These robotic weapons would be able to choose and fire on targets on their own, without any human intervention. This capability would pose a fundamental challenge to the protection of civilians and to compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.  For clarity it is necessary to note that fully autonomous weapons are not drones; drones have a human pilot in a remote location.  Fully autonomous weapons are a large step beyond armed drones.  You can learn more about autonomous weapons systems online at: www.stopkillerrobots.ca.

Your submission should illustrate one of the major problems with autonomous weapons systems or ask a question about handing over life and death decisions to a machine:

  • A lack of accountability – who is responsible if an autonomous weapon kills the wrong person or malfunctions?
  • Inability to distinguish between legitimate and legal targets and others – human soldiers must be able to tell the difference between soldiers and civilians, could a robot ever make that distinction?
  • The moral issues surrounding outsourcing life and death decisions to machines – is it right to allow machines to choose to end a human life?

Please don’t limit yourself to these example questions about autonomous weapons, they are intended to inspire you to create some questions of your own to guide your project.

What do I win?  The winner or winning team will receive a Go-Pro HERO 4 Silver camera and a 3-way mount.

Who can participate?  Submissions will be accepted from any contestant between the ages of 18 and 30 who is currently enrolled in post-secondary education.

How do I enter the competition?  Submitting your entry to the video contest is easy! Simply complete these three steps by March 15, 2015:

  1. Visit the contest entry form on our website, and fill in all of the required information.
  2. Upload your video to Vimeo and specify the location (URL) on the entry form. Memberships to Vimeo are free.
  3. Submit your online entry form to the Mines Action Canada team.

The Contest Rules and other information can be found in the Video Contest Announcement.  Please read the announcement carefully to ensure that your project is eligible for consideration by our panel of expert judges.  The contest entry form is available online at: http://goo.gl/forms/0VOGD6mgTp.

Disarmament Successes in 2014

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots had a pretty good 2014 but many people view 2014 as a terrible year full of death, war and disease around the world. Fortunately, things are not as bleak as the news makes them look. The humanitarian disarmament world has seen a lot of successes this year and each of these successes is a win for humanity.  So let’s recap the good news stories of 2014 in the humanitarian disarmament world.

As we get started on 2015, it’s time to pick our favourite humanitarian disarmament success story of 2014.

To stay up to date on all sorts of humanitarian disarmament developments, join the Mines Action Canada mailing list.  Please share this poll with your family, friends and networks to spread the good news!

A New Mandate and a New Video

Today at the UN in Geneva, states approved a new mandate for further discussions about autonomous weapons systems in 2015.  To celebrate, we are pleased to share our new video on why we need to Keep Killer Robots Fiction.

Remember, students you can make your own killer robots video in our film contest.

The Missing Half at the UN

Last week’s meeting at the the United Nations was remarkable for a number of reasons.  As discussed in an earlier post, this meeting under the Convention on Conventional Weapons was the first international discussions on autonomous weapons systems; this meeting was held less than a year and a half after the first report on the topic was released and this meeting brought together 87 states to discuss an emerging technology.  The meeting was also remarkable for the shocking lack of women invited to speak.

There were 18 experts invited to give presentations to the delegates and all of them were men.  Now that might sound like a story line from the final season of Mad Men, but sadly we are talking about a large diplomatic meeting hosted by the United Nations in 2014, not the exploits of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce in 1965.  The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots highlighted that the provisional agenda was unbalanced and suggested numerous possible experts who are leaders in their fields and who are women. And yet the panels proceeded as planned, leaving women, as Matthew Bolton put it, “literally condemned to the margins — only allowed to speak in civil society statements from the back of the room or ‘Side Events’.”

In the opening debate, civil society representatives and Norway commented on the gender disparity and later Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings, also commented on the lack of women presenting.  Throughout the meeting, women contributed greatly to the discussion through side-events, statements and interventions when permitted by the meeting’s chair.  Also, many of the memos and papers provided by civil society were written or co-authored by women.

Civil society including the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has taken action to address this anachronistic situation. Sarah Knuckey began compiling a list of women working, writing and speaking on autonomous weapons – the list currently includes over 25 names and growing.  Article 36, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, is compiling a list of people working in the field of peace and security – particularly disarmament, arms control and the protection of civilians – who benefit from their male gender and have committed not to speak on panels that include only men.  They say:

We believe that the practice of selecting only men to speak on panels in global policymaking forums is unjust. It excludes the voices of women and other gender identities from such events, running counter to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which commits to inclusion of women in discussions on peace and security. Global policymaking efforts on peace and security – including disarmament, arms control and the protection of civilians – must include people of a diversity of gender identities.

Mines Action Canada supports this new effort and encourages others working in this field who identify as men to join the initiative. The gender disparity at the meeting was so glaring that Motherboard covered the issue and the story was picked up by i09.  As someone with a passing interest in the construction of ideas and norms, the discussion surrounding this issue on io9 is very interesting.  I read the internet comments so you don’t have to and there are a few aspects of that online conversation I would like to address.

First up is the frequent comment – why does gender matter when discussing autonomous weapons? Having only men invited to speak at the UN as experts on autonomous weapons and gender considerations at the CCW matters for a number of reasons. I feel ridiculous listing reasons why women should be included in global policy making forums since it is (as stated above) 2014 not 1965 but for brevity’s sake here’s a couple of reasons unique to the autonomous weapons discussion:

  • The United Nations passed Security Council Resolution 1325 in October 2000 vowing to include women in global policy making on peace and security.  Resolution 1325 calls on states to “ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.” Having no women presenting at a UN meeting on an emerging weapon seems pretty contrary to Resolution 1325.
  • The growing consensus is autonomous weapons are a ‘game-changer’ or something that will fundamentally alter the nature of warfare globally.  We need to have wide-spread discussions about the role of humanity in conflict.  To only have (mostly Western  middle-aged) men speak on a topic that will have a dramatic impact on lives around the world is missing a large number of voices crucial to the needed discussion.
  • Proponents of autonomous weapons are saying they will be good for humanity because robots will not commit war crimes and specifically robots will not rape.  Charli Carpenter has an excellent piece dismantling the “robots won’t rape” argument where she points out that that rape is not just a crime of passion by one rogue soldier or a deranged warlord but often rape and other war crimes are ordered by the state.  Furthermore, the idea that rape victims and women’s bodies in general are being used for political gain in a male-dominated discussion about new weapon technology is abhorrent.

Another common line of commenting on this story was the idea that they got the best experts to present on these topics and unfortunately when it comes to things like science and engineering most of the experts are men.  Well since this is not the place to discuss why there are more men than women in STEM fields, I’ll move on to the assertion that they got the best experts to present. I don’t have to say much because Sarah Knuckey’s list has made it quite clear there are a number of women who are top of their fields and “experts” on the subject matter discussed last week.  But it is worth highlighting that the Harvard-based legal scholar who wrote the first report on the legal arguments surrounding autonomous weapons launching the global discussion (and who is a woman) was not included in either panel discussing legal issues.  Another troubling part of this idea is the decisions over autonomy and human control in conflict should be only handled by experts in technical fields like computer science.  The potential impact of autonomous weapons necessitates in-depth technical, legal, ethical and moral analysis.  A perceived gender imbalance in STEM does not justify only hearing from men on all topics of discussion.

I have ignored many of the blatantly misogynistic comments on the io9 piece about the lack of women at CCW and the work of obvious trolls but there is one more theme in the comments I would like to address.  More than one commenter stated something like “if they overlooked people that were more qualified to be present then it absolutely needs to be addressed [emphasis mine].”  The idea that women have to be better than men before their opinion should be taken into consideration is rather insidious.  It can be linked to the so-called confidence gap between men and women among other aspects of gender dynamics in the workplace.  I see this idea even in my own life – just last week, I did extra reading prior to a meeting because I felt that, as a young woman, I needed to know the topic better than anyone else before they would take me seriously.  One of the lessons I will take from this discussion of gender in global policy development spawned by the lack of women at the CCW meeting is that it is beyond time to ask the question why should a woman have to be more qualified rather than just as qualified as a man to be considered an expert?

Last week’s CCW meeting made much progress in the global discussion of autonomous weapons systems despite the regressive gender dynamics but we cannot continue on that path without recognizing the capabilities and expertise offered by women. We cannot continue to miss half the conversation. Civil society is taking action to improve gender representation in policy making and the media has recognized women as experts on this topic on numerous occasions so now it is up to the states.  It is time for states to get serious about implementing Resolution 1325.  It is time for states to hear more than half the story.

Update May 23: the International Committee for Robot Arms Control has listed their world leading female experts to prevent anyone using the excuse that there are no suitable women experts.

Great Campaign Events in Canada!

Mines Action Canada and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots hosted a number of events in Ottawa over the past two days to begin the discussion in Canada about autonomous weapons.  We were pleased to have Mary Wareham, Global Coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and Advocacy Director, Arms Division at Human Rights Watch along with Peter Asaro, Professor at the New School and Vice-Chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) join us and local expert Ian Kerr, in Ottawa for the events.  Be sure to check out the great summary of the events on the Campaign’s website.

The two days started with an op-ed by Ian Kerr who holds the Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa and is a member of ICRAC.

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Opening the public event

On April 28th, we met with other peace, disarmament and development organizations to talk about the campaign and to begin to build a stronger civil society presence in Canada on this issue.  There was a lot of a interest from our non-profit colleagues so we look forward to hearing more voices on this issue in the near future.

Later that day, we hosted a public event at Ottawa City Hall.  There was a panel discussion with Peter, Paul, Mary and Ian followed by a rather lively Question and Answer session with the audience.  The audience was generally quite supportive of the Campaign and our efforts to achieve a pre-emptive ban on autonomous weapons.  Audience members with backgrounds in engineering, law, the military and politics all expressed concern about the development of killer robots.

The following morning, MAC hosted a breakfast briefing for parliamentarians and their staff, other NGOs and decision makers in Ottawa.  The Bagels and ‘Bots breakfast was the first time some of these decision makers had heard of the issue and it seemed to strike a chord with many in the room.  After breakfast, the team was off to Parliament Hill for a press conference.  At the press conference and in MAC’s press release, campaigners called for Canadian leadership on this issue internationally and for Canada to be the first country in the world to declare a moratorium on the development and production of killer robots.

The media in Ottawa and across the country have taken quite an interest in these events.  The Canadian Press story was picked up in newspapers across the country as well as national media outlets and there was an associated list of facts about killer robots.  The Sun News Network, and Ottawa Citizen also covered the Campaign while MAC has received a number of radio interview requests.  Paul Hannon, Executive Director, was on CKNW Morning News with Philip Till.

One very exciting result of these activities is that The Globe and Mail’s editorial team has come out in support of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and our call:

The world has a long banned some weapons deemed dangerous, indiscriminate or inhumane, including chemical weapons and land mines. Autonomous robot weapons carry all such risks, and add new ones to the list. They are not wielded remotely by humans, but are intended to operate without supervision. They’re about turning life and death decisions over to software. Canada should be a leading voice advocating for a global protocol limiting their development and use.

Also Jian Ghomenshi on CBC Radio’s Q called for Canadian leadership on killer robots, he says that leadership on this issue is something Canadians could be proud of and that it could be a legacy issue for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Keep Killer Robots Fiction initiative is off to a great start.  You can get involved by signing and sharing the petition at: http://bit.ly/KRpetition.

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The panelists at the Bagels and ‘Bots Breakfast

Faith Groups Take Action on Killer Robots

In the past we’ve posted about scientists, human rights advocates, disarmament organizations and politicians who have spoken out against killer robots and the support for a ban on autonomous weapons continues to grow.  Faith groups, religious leaders and faith-based organizations are beginning to call for a ban on killer robots.

In November 2013,the World Council of Churches made a statement that recommends governments to: “Declare their support for a pre-emptive ban on drones and other robotic weapons systems that will select and strike targets without human intervention when operating in fully autonomous mode;”.  

Building on that recommendation, our colleagues in the Netherlands have launched an Interfaith Declaration that says:

we, as religious leaders, faith groups and faith-based organizations, raise our collective voice to
call on all governments to participate in the international debate on the issue, and to work
towards a ban on the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons.

The team at PAX put together a Factsheet on the Interfaith Declaration  and you can find even more information on their website.

We’re calling on all Canadian religious leaders, faith based organization and faith groups to support a ban on autonomous weapons and to sign the Interfaith Declaration.  Here is the full text of the Declaration: Interfaith Declaration.pdf (EN) and Interfaith Declaration FR.pdf (FR).  To sign the declaation digitally visit  http://www.paxforpeace.nl/stay-informed/news/interfaith-declaration or you can contact PAX directly at ekelhof@paxforpeace.nl.  In addition to the Interfaith Declaration for religious leaders and faith groups, individuals can sign Mines Action Canada’s Keep Killer Robots Fiction petition.

Remembering 2013

2013 was an exciting first year for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.  As we return from the holidays and get started on 2014, it is helpful to take a quick look back at 2013 to see how far we’ve come.

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The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots was launched in April 2013 in London.  Mines Action Canada is a co-founder of the campaign and a member of its Steering Committee along with other disarmament, human rights and humanitarian organizations.

In May, the first Human Rights Council debate on lethal autonomous robotics followed the presentation of a report by the UN special rapporteur, Christof Heyns, on extra-judicial killings. During the debate 20 governments make their views known for the first time.

A University of Massachusetts survey of 1,000 Americans found a majority oppose fully autonomous weapons and support actions to campaign against them. In August, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a “new technologies” edition of its quarterly journal.  The journal included articles by campaigners on fully autonomous weapons.

During the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security in New York in October, 16 governments made statements on killer robots.  Also in October, campaign member the International Committee for Robot Arms Control launched a letter from over 250 roboticists, scientists and other experts calling for a ban on autonomous weapons.

In November  at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva, 35 nations express their views on lethal autonomous weapons systems. States parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons agreed to a mandate to begin work in 2014 on the emerging technology of “lethal autonomous weapons systems.”  

Mines Action Canada (MAC) welcomed this historic decision to begin to address this issue. MAC encouraged all states to pursue an international ban on these weapons to ensure there will always be meaningful human control over targeting decisions and the use of violent force. We were also pleased that Canada made its first public statements on this topic during the CCW joining the other 43 nations who have spoken out on fully autonomous weapons since May.  “ If we have learned anything from the Canadian led efforts to ban landmines, it is that the world cannot afford to wait until there is a humanitarian crisis to act.  We need a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons before they can cause a humanitarian disaster,” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director, Mines Action Canada in a press release.

Our colleagues around the world have also seen exciting developments in their countries.  The international campaign has put together a global recap.

Canada does not have a national policy on autonomous weapons. There are  many reasons why Canada needs to have a policy on killer robots as soon as possible.  This year, MAC looks forward to working with the Government of Canada to develop a national policy and to work towards an international treaty banning killer robots.

You can take action in 2014 by signing our Keep Killer Robots Fiction petition, by sharing the campaign website www.stopkillerrobots.ca and by donating to this new campaign.

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots Summer Recap

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has been trundling along all summer  sharing our message, reaching out to governments and gaining new supporters,.

There have been some exciting and important developments over the summer.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) launched the newest edition of the International Review of the Red Cross and the theme is New Technologies and Warfare.  A number of campaigners contributed to the journal so it is definitely worth a read.  The ICRC also published a Frequently Asked Questions document on autonomous weapons that helps explain the issue and the ICRC’s position on fully autonomous weapons.

France along with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva convened a seminar on fully autonomous weapons for governments and civil society in early September.  The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots had campaigners taking part and you can read the full report on the global campaign’s website.

The campaigns in Germany and Norway are starting off strong as well.  In the lead up to the German election, all the major parties shared their policy positions in regards to fully autonomous weapons with our colleagues at Facing Finance.  Norwegian campaigners launched their campaign with a breakfast seminar and now they are waiting to hear what the new Norwegian government’s policy on fully autonomous weapons will be.

Like our colleagues in Norway, we’re still waiting to hear what Canada’s policy on fully autonomous weapons will be.  We have written to the Ministers of National Defense and of Foreign Affairs but the campaign team has not yet heard back.  In the meantime, Canadians can weigh in on the topic through our new online petition.  Share and sign the petition today!  This petition is the first part of a new initiative that will be coming your way in a few weeks.  Keep your eye out for the news and until then keep sharing the petition so that the government knows that Canadians have concerns about fully autonomous weapons and believe that Canada should have a strong policy against them.

EDIT:  We had a very human moment here and forgot to include congratulations to James Foy of Vancouver for winning the 2013 Canadian Bar Association’s National Military Law Section Law School Sword and Scale Essay Prize for his essay called Autonomous Weapons Systems: Taking the Human out of International Humanitarian Law.  It is great to see law students looking at this new topic and also wonderful that the Canadian Bar Association recognized the importance of this issue.  Congratulations James!