The Convention on Conventional Weapons is meeting this week for its 6th Review Conference at the United Nations in Geneva.
This meeting happens every five years and offers states the opportunity to assess progress made under this treaty and to set plans for the next five years.
Today, MAC's Military Advisor delivered our general statement at the Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons commenting on autonomous weapons, incendiary weapons and the protocols on landmines and explosive remnants of war.
Building on our 2019 statement, MAC asked states if they will take a direct route towards peace and disarmament or will they continue to aimlessly wander through the diplomatic woods?
Read the full statement here.
Delivered to the Convention on Conventional Weapons' Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems by Executive Director, Paul Hannon, from our office in Ottawa via the online platform Interprefy.
Thank you Chair and thank you to Germany and the ODA for their support in permitting remote participation. I would like to acknowledge that I am speaking to you today from the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin people. Recognizing the indigenous nations upon whose land we are working is an excellent reminder of the need to ensure that these discussions are inclusive and grounded in humanity.
As a member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, Mines Action Canada encourages the high contracting parties to ensure that CCW continues to draw on the expertise from civil society and the private sector. Civil society and the private sector have made significant contributions to the discussion since the beginning and High Contracting Parties have frequently commented including today on the importance of contributions from civil society. Our role should be safeguarded in any future work streams to ensure that all these discussions are inclusive.
To keep our conversations grounded in humanity, we recommend adding in a work stream on moral or ethical concerns. A technocratic debate is insufficient to deal with the challenges posed by autonomous weapons systems. We need to be able to answer questions like “how can one test the humanity of an algorithm?” or “what is the relationship between explainablity and ethics?” Explainablity should never be considered as a synonym for ethical.
We are pleased to hear many delegations express a desire to move on from a discussion of definitions and characteristics because we note that CCW Protocol IV does not have a definition of a blinding laser weapon. It prohibits “laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices.” and while there is a definition of permanent blindness in Article 4 there is no definition of laser weapon in the Protocol. That lack of a definition obviously did not prevent negotiations nor stop it from being an effective Protocol.
We appreciate the robust debate this week and would like to direct specific attention to Austria’s comments outlining the needs to show that this GGE is not an isolated diplomatic silo. The work here must reflect the situation outside of CCW where scientists, experts and industry are calling for action, where the public wants to prohibit autonomous weapons, and where political leaders are stepping up. Ambitious guidance at the political level such as the mandate letter for Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs which instructs him to “Advance international efforts to ban the development and use of fully autonomous weapons systems” are not being matched by ambition in the CCW.
New international law is needed to address the multitude of concerns with autonomous weapon systems. It is time to negotiate another legally binding instrument, either here or elsewhere. That instrument should include:
- A general obligation to maintain meaningful human control over the use of force;
- Prohibitions on weapons systems that select and engage targets and by their nature pose fundamental moral or legal problems; and
- Specific positive obligations to help ensure that meaningful human control is maintained in the use of all other systems that select and engage targets.
Mines Action Canada appreciates the guiding questions put forward by the chair in his non-paper and we would like to present some additional questions for delegates to consider today and in future meetings:
- Considering what you have heard about data bias, are these conversations inclusive?
- Do our statements reflect the public conscience and political will of our citizens?
- Are we being as ambitious as those inventing new technology?
- What or who is missing from these conversations?
- Will a future generation of diplomats need to negotiate a treaty to protect the rights, lives and livelihoods of civilian victims of autonomous weapons systems because this generation did not seize the chance to negotiate a pre-emptive ban?
We do not want to be the people who let the world sleepwalk into another humanitarian crisis. It is time for ambition and for taking the next step.
Right before the holidays, the Prime Minister's Office published the mandate letters for all the Cabinet Ministers and from Mines Action Canada's perspective there are a couple very interesting items in these letters. With Parliament resuming in less than two weeks, let's dig into the mandate letters and see what we can find.
First is the big news, the mandate letter for Minister of Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, includes instruction to "advance international efforts to ban the development and use of fully autonomous weapons systems". You read that right - Canada's Foreign Minister as to help a ban on the development and use of killer robots. That is pretty big news. Canada has been waffling on the issue of autonomous weapons for years now. In diplomatic talks at the United Nations, Canada would occasionally give a statement on the importance of international humanitarian law and the role of weapons reviews in preventing the use of indiscriminate weapons but no one would consider Canada a leader on this issue. Now Canada needs to join the likes of Austria, Chile, and Brazil in not only calling for a ban on autonomous weapons systems but actively working for one. This addition to the mandate letter has definitely been noticed internationally and states will be looking to see a change in Canada's position at the United Nations. We will be watching closely to see how Global Affairs implements this instruction from the mandate letter. We will be looking to see if Minister Champagne is working with his counterparts in National Defense, Innovation, Science, and Industry, Public Safety and Justice to formulate a strategy to bring Canada and the world towards a ban on autonomous weapons systems. Canadian diplomats will need to have the time and resources needed to make this ban a reality but with support and political will it can be done in the next two to three years.
Next up, both Minister Champagne and Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan, have instructions related to the women, peace and security agenda in their mandate letters. This is more great news for our work. Mines Action Canada knows that humanitarian disarmament and the women, peace and security agenda are closely linked. Better implementation of disarmament treaties like the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines protects girls and women in conflict affected areas while better implementation of the women, peace and security agenda increases women's participation in disarmament decision making resulting in better outcomes for us all.
Finally, there is a strong focus on the Sustainable Development Goals and the effectiveness of international assistance in the mandate letter for Minister of International Development, Karina Gould. That is important because there are significant links between the Sustainable Development Goals and disarmament, whether it is nuclear disarmament or clearance of landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war. Landmine clearance alone is linked to progress on 12 Sustainable Development Goals. The focus on effective international assistance is welcome because we know that supporting mine action (clearance of contaminated land and victim assistance) provides exceptional value for money. Landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war are lethal barriers to development so support to mine action allows all other development work to happen. When land is cleared and survivors are assisted, communities can safely grow food, refugees and displaced persons can return home and trade can flow smoothly. A recent report showed that for every dollar invested into mine action in Lebanon resulted in an economic benefit of $4.15. If Canada is looking for development projects that promote the Sustainable Development Goals and exemplify effective international assistance, mine action is the way to go. Plus, we would be finishing what Canada started in 1997 with the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines.
Based on these mandate letters, there is a lot of potential for Canada to resume its position as a champion of humanitarian disarmament and help make the world a safer place for us all. Let's hope the Ministers have the courage to see them though.
Mines Action Canada's Program Manager addressed the Convention on Conventional Weapons today.
Statement of Mines Action Canada to CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties
Thank you Chair. For more than two decades, Mines Action Canada has seen that CCW has the potential to create new international law but too often this body has lacked ambition and allowed a few states to hinder progress.
This week CCW will choose a path to the 2021 Review Conference. States need to ensure that this path is direct and efficient. We do not have the time to continue wandering aimlessly through the diplomatic woods unable to see the forest for the trees. CCW must live up to its potential and undertake real action to protect people from indiscriminate weapons. As this is the only time we will take the floor this week, I would like to speak to three topics.
We echo the calls by Human Rights Watch for high contracting parties to insist on dedicated time to discuss Protocol III in 2020. The ongoing use of incendiary weapons in Syria is abhorrent and must stop. The only possible response to the pain and suffering caused by these weapons is to strengthen the protocol and close the loopholes. We cannot stand idly by any longer.
Similarly on autonomous weapons systems, CCW is in danger of being caught standing still while technology advances in leaps and bounds. States need to focus on action not more discussion.
As we are a member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, we are pleased to see autonomous weapon systems gaining importance at the national level. During the Canadian election this fall, two of the political parties pledge to work for a ban on autonomous weapons in their election platforms including the Liberal party which will form the next government. We note with interest the Swedish foreign minister's recent comments in support of a ban on killer robots. This week the CCW needs to be as ambitious as our politicians. It is time to adopt a new CCW mandate to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit lethal autonomous weapons systems and ensure meaningful human control over the use of force.
Finally, we would like to remind states that there is a robust framework of international law that applies to improvised explosive devices when they fit the definition of mines under the Ottawa Treaty and CCW AP II. Discussion of IEDs must be grounded in the existing international law.
The choices you make here this week will set a course for the next two years. Will you take a direct route towards peace and disarmament or will you continue to aimlessly wander through the diplomatic woods?