European Union External Action

Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons - EU Statement

Geneva, 28/09/2020 - 12:52, UNIQUE ID: 200928_7
Statements on behalf of the EU

Mr Chair,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The Candidate Countries Turkey, the Republic of North Macedonia[1], Montenegro[1], Serbia[1] and Albania[1], the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the EFTA country Iceland, member of the European Economic Area, as well as the Republic of Moldova, align themselves with this statement.

At the outset, I would like to congratulate you on your readiness to assume the leadership of the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (GGE LAWS) during its 2020 session and thank you for the preparation of this September meeting amidst particularly challenging circumstances. I would also like to acknowledge the work of the previous Chair, Ambassador Janis Karklins of Latvia, for his efforts during the height of the pandemic to steer the Group and move the work of the GGE forward by requesting States to submit national commentaries on the operationalisation of the 11 guiding principles adopted in 2019.

The EU welcomes the steady progress made over the past few years to increase our collective understanding of the complex topic of LAWS, with a view to ensuring compliance with international law, in particular International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and avoid a scenario whereby rapid technological advances could create new risks of non-compliance. We recall that States bear a fundamental responsibility to ensure that the development, production, deployment and use of emerging technologies in the area of LAWS will be in compliance with international law, in particular, International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

We encourage the High Contracting Parties (HCP) to seek further common ground on developing substantive content and ensuring the effectiveness of the process. The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) is the relevant international forum in this regard, combining diplomatic, legal and military expertise and involving, in addition to States, international and regional organisations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), industry and civil society. The CCW must remain responsive to new developments in the field of weapons technology and be able to adequately address them. In this regard, the CCW should ensure, within its mandate, that, first of all, these new developments comply with relevant obligations. For the credibility of the process and acknowledging the progress already made, it is important that the CCW produces concrete and substantive results, including by advancing on the operationalisation of the 11 guiding principles.

Further consideration of the human element in the use of lethal force; aspects of human-machine interaction in the development, deployment and use of emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems

We recall the mandate agreed in 2016 by the Fifth CCW Review Conference for the GGE LAWS and the comprehensive list of items identified for further consideration. For the EU, the consideration of the human element and reaching common understandings on elements of human control will be relevant for all future work.

We should continue work to understand how human-machine interaction, human control, judgment, accountability and responsibility might work, with regard to possible military applications of emerging technologies in the area of LAWS. We have previously outlined key elements which, in our view, are crucial for ensuring sufficient human supervision. We should aim to elaborate a common understanding on the type and degree of human-machine interaction, including elements of sufficient human control and judgment, which will be needed to ensure full compliance with International Law and, in particular, IHL. The clarification, consideration and development of aspects of the normative and operational framework on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS is based on the implementation of the existing IHL rules and must ensure that these rules fully apply to these systems, without prejudice to future developments or additions to these rules. This might facilitate our consideration of the normative and operational framework related to emerging technologies in the area of LAWS.

On the proposed agenda

The proposed agenda of the GGE LAWS is a pragmatic basis for our work on legal, technical and military aspects. Acting upon this agenda will not prevent any State from raising other relevant issues during the debate. We would like to reiterate our proposal that information should be freely and regularly exchanged across thematic areas, as all areas have cross-cutting considerations. We would also propose that the key themes with possible deliverables for each thematic area are identified in advance and agreed by consensus.

On the guiding principles

The EU attaches great importance to the 11 guiding principles, including, inter alia, the additional guiding principle (c) proposed by Belgium and Ireland on human-machine interaction. This may take various forms and be implemented at various stages of the life cycle of a weapon, and should ensure that the potential use of weapons systems based on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS is in compliance with applicable international law, in particular IHL. Their purpose is to act as a basis for the GGE’s recommendations in relation to the clarification, consideration and development of aspects of the normative and operational framework on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS. We encourage HCP to take them into account in their national practices and policies.

We look forward to the discussions on how the agreed guiding principles, which the Group may also further develop and elaborate, can be operationalised. This may improve our ability to ensure compliance with IHL, including its key rules and principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack, to take constant care to spare the civilian population and with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects, as well as the obligation to protect the wounded, sick, prisoners of war and any person hors de combat.

In this regard, we welcome the commentaries on the operationalisation of the guiding principles already submitted by HCP. Civil society organisations and the ICRC have made an important contribution for deepening our common understanding. We encourage further contributions to further our understanding. We are looking forward to unpacking the concepts contained therein and identifying commonalities. We welcome the document issued by the previous Chair, Ambassador Karklins, which analyses the national commentaries on the guiding principles and identifies relevant commonalities. These commonalities set forth a number of areas of consensus and constitute a good basis for further discussions and progress. 

On concepts and characteristics of LAWS

In addition to focusing on the human element, we should continue to strive for a common understanding on concepts and characteristics of LAWS, which could include possible preliminary working definitions, which could bring helpful clarity to our discussions. In this respect, elaborating on the commentaries that have already been submitted could prove, once again, particularly useful.

On sharing of information and good practices

The GGE LAWS provides a good venue for, where appropriate, sharing information and good practices on the implementation of national legal weapons reviews, with regard to weapons systems based on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS. We recall that, pursuant to Article 36 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, a HCP is in the study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon, means or method of warfare, under an obligation to determine, whether its employment would, in some or all circumstances, be prohibited by applicable international law. We encourage all States to conduct legal reviews as a matter of good practice.

We invite interested HCP to continue to exchange information on how they implement existing applicable international law in the context of weapons systems based on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS, propose voluntary guidance documents, which could include a compilation of applicable legal norms, and share good practices, bearing in mind the objectives and purposes of the CCW.

On gender aspects

We recognise the critical role that data plays for AI–based technologies. Social biases that have a potential impact on emerging technologies, for example through gender bias in algorithms, should also be given due consideration. Furthermore, gender equality and the empowerment of women is an important horizontal priority for the EU and we believe it is important to take into account gender perspectives, when discussing the issue of LAWS, given the nexus between gender and emerging technologies.

On the organisation of GGE LAWS meetings

Taking note of rapid technological change, the EU and its Member States are firmly committed to engaging in further substantive discussions and work on the different legal, technical and military aspects, relevant to this Group’s mandate on the clarification, consideration and development of aspects of the normative and operational framework, bearing in mind ethical considerations.

In order to sustain the momentum and reach consensual outcomes as quickly as possible ahead of 2021, we encourage all HCP to demonstrate flexibility and commitment to facilitate a smooth organisation of the remaining meetings of the GGE LAWS. In this regard, we urge once again all States to comply with their financial obligations in full and on time, and to settle their outstanding arrears without further delay, in order to ensure the continuation of this important work.

Thank you, Mr Chair

[1] The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process