Effective human control over lethal autonomous weapon systems and compliance with international humanitarian law

  • Tarisa Kramadibrata Yasin

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


International Humanitarian Law (IHL) often must catch up with the fast pace of technological change. A recent example of IHL catching up with technological development concerns lethal weapon systems that possess autonomy-enabling technology, also known as lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS). The challenges LAWS raises for IHL have been discussed in forums such as the ICRC expert meetings, the Informal Meeting of Experts on LAWS, and the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. From these discussions and the current literature on LAWS, it is widely acknowledged that human control must still be exercised over LAWS to comply with IHL and that it must be ‘meaningful’ or ‘effective’. However, what ‘effective human control’ means and what exercising effective human control would look like are questions that are yet to be answered.

This thesis looks at how effective human control over LAWS can be conceptualised to ensure that the development and use of such weapon systems can comply with IHL. This is achieved by exploring elements such as 1) current IHL rules and principles; 2) the concepts of state responsibility, individual criminal liability and command responsibility; and 3) discussions on LAWS and human control that have occurred in meetings and the literature. Through the exploration of these elements, five factors are highlighted as important to consider when building a working definition: 1) the principles and rules of IHL; 2) the different types of LAWS; 3) the varying degrees of autonomy different LAWS possess; 4) the different stages in the lifecycle of a LAWS; and 5) accountability to ensure it is clear that the States and their agents are accountable for any misuse of LAWS.

This thesis proposes a working definition of effective human control that incorporates the factors mentioned above to provide a deeper understanding of how autonomy functions in LAWS and how human control is exercised over LAWS. Therefore, it provides a practical and realistic understanding of how human control can be exercised effectively. The working definition has the potential to assist in progressing the ongoing debate on how to regulate LAWS.
Date of Award5 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJonathan Crowe (Supervisor) & Eugenia Georgiades (Supervisor)

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