Chair summary highlights GGE on LAWS’ work

The 2020–2021 Group of Governmental Experts on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems (GGE on LAWS) has concluded its work, as the Chairperson’s Summary notes. The group – mandated with clarifying, considering and developing the normative and operational framework on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS, building on the work of previous groups – was expected to present a report for consideration to the Sixth Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (to be held in December 2021). 

Although ‘it was not possible for the group to develop and agree’ on such a report, it advanced discussions on several areas. These discussions are outlined in the summary, which also highlights (a) possible elements for consensus recommendations and (b) areas for possible future work with a view to arriving at additional elements for consensus recommendations. For instance, the group considered the following elements as a possible basis for consensus:

(a) international humanitarian law (IHL) imposes obligations on states, parties to armed conflict and individuals, not machines;

(b) states, parties to armed conflict and individuals remain at all times responsible for adhering to their obligations under applicable international laws;

(c) IHL requirements and principles must be applied through a chain of responsible command and control by human operators and commander;

d) it is unlawful to use weapon systems, including LAWS, with effects that cannot be limited in accordance with IHL or that cannot otherwise be used in accordance with IHL;

(e) states shall ensure a human operator or commander exercises judgement over the operational context, including through constraints applied to the weapon system, the parameters of the weapon system’s use, and the required interaction between human and weapon system;

(f) in implementing agreed measures, states shall not hamper progress in or access to civilian and military research and development and use of emerging technologies in the area of LAWS; (

g) human responsibility for the use of weapons systems based on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems can be exercised in various ways across the life-cycle of these weapon systems and through human-machine interaction.


With regard to possible policy options for addressing the challenges raised by LAWS, the group has considered:

(a) the negotiation of a legally binding instrument containing prohibitions, regulations, positive obligations or a combination of these (a call for a moratorium on the development and use of autonomous weapons in the interim was also made);

(b) the negotiation of a political declaration containing important principles such as human control, possibly based on the Guiding principles agreed in 2019;

(c) the negotiation of a non-legally binding technical outcome comprising a compilation of existing applicable international law and identifying associated good practices and information sharing for states;

(d) a recognition that no further legal measures are needed, if the view is that IHL is fully applicable and sufficiently clear to deal with any possible challenges raised by LAWS. As the summary notes, these policy options are not necessarily mutually exclusive.