Defend Human Rights: Ban Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

It seems like something out of a dystopian novel- autonomous killer robots, making decisions about who is targeted and when to fire their weapons. Unfortunately, scenarios involving Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) aren’t as fantastical as we would like to believe. Many of the weapons used today are already employing artificial intelligence technology to aid in military operations, and the industry is headed rapidly towards the development of fully autonomous systems in which humans are not involved in the final decision to strike.

On this Human Rights Day, we call attention to the potential for LAWS to take away the basic human rights of “life, liberty and security of person” and the right to a hearing before an impartial tribunal in relation to criminal charges, as laid out in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Church of the Brethren laid out the biblical rationale for sanctity of life in a 2010 statement, saying, “sanctity of life was and is a fundamental value of our faith. According to the biblical witness we recognize the following as foundational for our conviction regarding the sanctity of life: God created human beings in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and God proclaimed this creation “very good.” In Exodus God commands the Israelites to “not wrong or oppress a resident alien” (Ex. 22:21).”  The church’s commitment to human rights is evident in it’s work against the use of drones in warfare. Even the human-operated drone strikes have resulted in unacceptable loss of human rights for targeted communities, and autonomous weapons would accelerate our departure from human rights norms in how we deal with international conflict.

The trend towards development of autonomous weapons is chilling, and a wide range of industry representatives, faith communities and human rights NGOs have called for a complete ban on the development of and use of LAWS. The Future of Life Institute coordinated a Lethal Autonomous Weapons pledge, which has been signed by industry leaders like Google DeepMind and Elon Musk.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the European Forum on Armed Drones, and many other disarmament-focused organizations are working to incorporate language against LAWS into United Nations and European Union policy. The Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare continues to advocate in Washington, D.C. for good drone policy on the United States’ end.

The Church of the Brethren affirmed it’s statement against the use of drones in warfare in 2013, and has been working with the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare since then to enact policy changes in the United States. The Church views the use of drones as a moral issue, as it does all participation in war, saying in the 2013 statement that “war or any participation in war is wrong and entirely incompatible with the spirit, example and teachings of Jesus Christ,” (1918 Statement of Special Conference of the Church of the Brethren to the Churches and the Drafted Brethren) and that all “war is sin…[and that we] cannot encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad.”

To urge the company responsible for the Predator and Reaper drones (General Atomics) to sign the Future of Life Institute pledge to not develop lethal autonomous weapons systems, our office is working with the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare to host a faith rally on May 3rd in Washington, DC. At this event, we will share why drone warfare is illegal, immoral and ineffective, and our communities will call for an end to CIA drone strikes and for General Atomics to sign the Future of Life pledge on lethal autonomous weapons.

Join us for the rally on May 3rd! More details can be found here.  Can’t make it to D.C. for the rally? Organize your own demonstration in your own community, and support us on social media with the hashtag #EndDroneWarfare.

Drone strikes are being ordered on our behalf, as U.S. citizens. It is important that we take the time to speak up for justice for the victims of the drone strikes that are already happening, and preemptively protect human rights that would be taken away by the use of autonomous weapons.

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