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NZ should prohibit killer robots, says Human Rights Watch

02 May 2019

New Zealand has promised since 2013 to provide a coherent policy position on fully autonomous weapons, but still hasn't done so, a spokesperson for the international Human Rights Watch organisation says.

In an article published by Human Rights Watch, New Zealand: Preventing Harm from Guns, Killer Robots, Advocacy Director, Arms Division Mary Wareham says successive New Zealand governments failed to carry out legislative changes recommended in 1997 by an official review of firearms control.

"One lawyer who co-wrote that report has expressed regret that lives would have been saved in the Christchurch terror attack if semi-automatic weapons had been prohibited two decades ago, as the inquiry recommended," she says.

Ms Wareham says an arms control conference in Berlin in April considered various emerging technologies that raise serious concerns, particularly fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems, or killer robots.

"These are completely different weapons, but the same concerns apply around government inaction on calls to regulate."

She says support for a ban on fully autonomous weapons is growing, with 28 countries already declaring their support.

"But New Zealand is not among them. New Zealand has promised since 2013 to provide a coherent policy position on fully autonomous weapons, but still hasn't done so.

"New Zealand has not commented on the formal proposal made last year by Austria, Brazil and Chile to being the urgent negotiation of a 'legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions' of weapons systems.

"In fact, at last month's diplomatic meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems at the UN in Geneva, New Zealand stated that such weapons could be developed and used as long as they pass a legal review and are used lawfully."

Ms Wareham says this "narrow view" ignores the serious concerns raised by fully autonomous weapons and is out of step with a majority of countries, which have said that existing humanitarian law will not be sufficient to prevent the development of killer robots.

"New Zealand's current stance on killer robots stands in stark contrast to its bold political leadership to tackle the harm caused by landmines and cluster bombs. It does not complement the active and central role that our country plays in contributing to multilateral disarmament diplomacy, demonstrated most recently in New Zealand's central contribution to creating the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons."

Last updated on the 16th September 2019