Machines Capable of Taking Lives without Human Involvement Are Unacceptable, Secretary-General Tells Experts on Autonomous Weapons Systems

SG/SM/19512-DC/3797
25 March 2019

Machines Capable of Taking Lives without Human Involvement Are Unacceptable, Secretary-General Tells Experts on Autonomous Weapons Systems

Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ message, delivered by Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, to the meeting of the group of experts on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems, in Geneva today:

I am pleased to send this message of encouragement to the group of governmental experts on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.

Your work is of the utmost importance and urgency.  As I have said on a number of occasions, machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and should be prohibited by international law.

This reflects what I see as the prevailing sentiment across the world.  I know of no State or armed force in favour of fully autonomous weapon systems empowered to take human life.

The possible guiding principles you agreed last year took a step towards solidifying this norm.  Those principles demarcated an important line in the sand, stating that “human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems must be retained since accountability cannot be transferred to machines”.

There continue to be various possible approaches to ensuring that human responsibility for the use of force is safeguarded.  I am aware that some of you think new law is necessary.  Others argue for political measures and guidelines.

It is your task now to narrow these differences and find the most effective way forward.  I am convinced that this is possible in a framework such as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.  But of course, this will require compromise, creativity and political will.

The world is watching, the clock is ticking and others are less sanguine.  I hope you prove them wrong.

I stand ready to assist in any way I can.  I know many others across industry, academia and civil society have also provided valuable inputs, support and impetus, and I thank them for that.  But it is now over to you to deliver.

I wish you a successful and productive meeting.

For information media. Not an official record.