Remembering Gerry Conlon, Supporting Chelsea Manning

i Sep 16th Comments Off by

Report by Genny Bove

The Irish greeting Céad míle fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes) is no exaggeration. Over in Dublin from Wales again for a few days, this time with Chelsea Manning’s Mum Susan, we are once again experiencing the extraordinary hospitality, warmth and staunch solidarity of our friends here, and it’s wonderful.

Thursday night we gathered at the Teachers’ Club in central Dublin for an evening gathering Resisting Injustice organised by Afri to remember the late, great Gerry Conlon who met and offered his support to Chelsea’s family and who spoke so eloquently against injustice and for Chelsea Manning last November, just a few months before his untimely death from cancer this June.

Donal O’Kelly, the creative force behind January’s Manning Truthfest, was MC for the night. Donal has helped keep the cause in the public eye in myriad ways, most recently dedicating the World’s Best Radio Show award for his play Francisco to Chelsea Manning.

Nuala Kelly

Human rights campaigner, Nuala Kelly, speaking about Gerry Conlon at Resisting Injustice. Photo: Dave Donnellan

The first speaker was Nuala Kelly, whose talk drew on her extensive experience of supporting Irish prisoners in overseas jails. She recounted how she had at first been more aware of Giuseppe Conlon’s arrest back in 1975 than that of his son Gerry but how later, in her work with the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, she became involved in supporting Gerry and his family in their quest for justice. Nuala emphasised the impact on families when a person is imprisoned and the importance of offering support and working alongside families. She described how the campaign to free the Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and Birmingham Six started to gain momentum, with local groups little by little getting involved and taking their own solidarity initiatives, such as a women’s group organising street stalls in central Dublin. If we are going to build an effective campaign to free Chelsea, we need to find ways to engage as many people as possible as well as being mindful of the perspectives of both the prisoner and her family. (more…)

War Games at Croke Park

i Sep 3rd Comments Off by
A USAF F-16C over Iraq in 2008.  Source: Wikipedia

A USAF F-16C over Iraq in 2008. Source: Wikipedia

I was planting a tree in the garden of my north Dublin home on Saturday afternoon when the silence was shattered by a sudden thunderous roar, the like of which I had never heard before, while I caught a glimpse of a black streak flashing across the sky. My wife ran from the house alarmed and fearful – thinking that an attack of some sort was actually taking place. In our local vegetable shop, a staff member reported customers instinctively ‘running for cover’ as they were overwhelmed by the deafening noise. A man in his 70s who was repairing a house nearby had to go inside for an hour as a result of the shock.

We later learned that the cause of our Saturday afternoon jolt was two F-16 war planes, performing a fly-past for the American football match in Croke Park. I thought of the fear that, if only for a few seconds, these war planes had generated. The vaguest hint, perhaps, of what it must be like for families in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere for whom this is a daily reality, except in these instances it is no propagandist fly-past as the war planes ‘deliver’ death, destruction and misery. I thought of what it would be like for my own children if this had been the ‘real thing’, and of those children for whom this sound is the last they will ever hear! (more…)

Afri expresses outrage at the “fly past” by 2 U.S. jet fighters as part of the U.S. football match in Croke Park on Saturday 30th August

i Sep 1st Comments Off by

The justice and peace group Afri have expressed outrage at the “fly past” by 2 U.S. jet fighters as part of the U.S. football match in Croke Park at the weekend.

“Many people in the surrounding areas were shocked and frightened when the silence of a quiet Saturday afternoon was shattered by the thunder of 2 F16 fighter jets which, without warning or explanation, flew overhead in a “lap of honour” for the participating teams.  What would it be like if, as in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, they were firing the missiles which are their stock in trade?  Who gave consent for this invasion of Irish air space by elements of the U.S. war machine? Is it appropriate that the headquarters of Ireland’s national games, built over many years by the pence and shillings, cents and euros, of loyal supporters should be used as a backdrop for U.S. war propaganda?

If official permission was given, Afri would condemn the authorities in Croke Park and the Irish Government for collusion with this disgraceful display.  As with Shannon Airport, this shows a typically supine attitude by the Irish Government to U.S. power.  Is there no limit to our willingness to prostrate ourselves before the altar of U.S. militarism?   Sport should be a means of bringing people together and promoting peace, not a vehicle for promoting war and militarism,” said Dr. Iain Atack of Afri.

Should there be a recurrence of this event in future years, Afri stated that it will mobilise people to protest against such obscene conflation of war and sport.

Article in the Irish Times by Fiona Gartland: Croke Park Classic: fighter jet fly-past upsets people, dogs and anti-war group

Resisting Injustice

i Aug 28th Comments Off by

gerry conlon evening poster smallerA Memorial evening for Gerry Conlon in solidarity with Chelsea Manning, Thursday 11th September, 7pm in the Teachers’  Club, Dublin 1

Entrance on a donation basis – To book tickets: click here

Gerry Conlon of the Guilford Four, a victim of the one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in recent history, devoted much of his life on his release from prison, to campaigning on behalf of other prisoners and highlighting human rights abuses worldwide.

In November 2013, Gerry spoke at an event in Trinity College in solidarity with whistleblower Chelsea Manning who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for revealing the truth about the war in Iraq. The meeting in November was attended by hundreds of people including the family of Chelsea Manning. Gerry Conlon spoke movingly about his own experiences, the courage of Chelsea Manning and the importance of whistleblowers in revealing miscarriages of justice. This address will feature as part of the Memorial evening, and will include a reflection on Gerry Conlon by human rights campaigner Nuala Kelly.  It will also include contributions from leading musicians and actors such as Joe Black, Simon Meyler, Sorcha Fox, RoJ Whelan, Donal O’Kelly  and more!

Entrance by donation. Donations from the event will go to the Manning Family Fund.

To book tickets: click here

See also our facebook event page 

Iraq calls for global ban as study confirms depleted uranium cancer risks

i Aug 28th Comments Off by

img_457Iraq has called for an international treaty banning depleted uranium (DU) weapons in a report to the United Nations as evidence continues to mount of their risks to civilians. Iraq’s report, published ahead of this autumn’s UN General Assembly where DU weapons will be debated, also urges member states and UN agencies to adopt a proactive approach to the issue and condemn the use of the weapons. Iraq is the country most affected by wartime DU contamination, with at least 400,000kg used by the US and UK in 1991 and 2003’s conflicts.

The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) has also called for DU weapons to be banned, just as anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs have been. ICBUW argues that the weapons are inherently indiscriminate and that their legacy persists long after the end of conflict.

“ICBUW warmly welcomes Iraq’s intervention,” said ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir. “We hope that it will act as a reminder that the legacy of these weapons lasts well beyond the end of conflicts and disproportionately affects the civilian population. The complete lack of obligations on the users of DU weapons to clean up their mess leaves civilians at risk of exposure as clearance is expensive, technically challenging and often beyond the ability of countries recovering from war.”

New report: dozens of new studies reveal health risks
Little was known about the risks to civilians posed by DU weapons prior to their first major use in the 1991 Gulf War, with significant uncertainties persisting until the present day. However a new analysis of nearly 50 peer-reviewed studies has concluded that the chemically toxic and radioactive substance can damage DNA and cause cancer, the report calls for urgent studies into the extent to which civilians are being exposed to DU.
All radioactive substances that emit alpha radiation, including DU, have already been classified by the WHO’s specialist International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 1 carcinogens if they get inside the human body. Studies show that DU can also damage DNA and cellular processes in a number of different ways, such as by triggering oxidative damage, breaking DNA strands and binding directly to the DNA itself. Other papers have documented that DU can cause mutations in DNA, change the structure of chromosomes, make cells become cancerous and destabilise the genome.

“These studies contain irrefutable evidence of the damage that DU can do,” said David Cullen, one of the report’s authors. “It is completely unacceptable that this material was used in weapons before the effects were properly understood. We urgently need research to find out how much DU is getting into those people who are forced to live, work and play in areas contaminated by DU weapons so we can make a full assessment of the risks”.

Studies into DU’s impact in the field have been severely hampered in Iraq by the refusal of the United States to release data on where the weapons were fired and in what quantity. The chance release of a handful of coordinates earlier this year indicated that DU had been used against a far wider range of targets in Iraq than was legal and in populated areas, increasing the risks that civilians would be exposed.

Notes:

Iraq’s report to the United Nations
Iraq’s report is available here with analysis of all the reports here. This October, the United Nations will consider a 5th biennial General Assembly resolution on the risks posed by DU weapons. The last, in 2012, was supported by 155 states and opposed by just four – the US, UK, France and Israel. Further information on the legacy of DU use in Iraq can be found in the reports In a State of Uncertainty and Laid to Waste by PAX.

Download the new scientific review
The new study ‘Malignant Effects: depleted uranium as a genotoxin and carcinogen’ is available to download here.

About ICBUW
The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) campaigns for a ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapons and weapon systems and for monitoring, health care, compensation and environmental remediation for communities affected by their use. ICBUW represents more than 160 organisations worldwide and seeks to do for uranium weapons what the International Coalition to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition did for those types of weapons, in essence to develop a uranium weapons treaty that would prohibit the use of uranium in all conventional, i.e. non-nuclear, weapons.

About depleted uranium weapons
For a quick overview of depleted uranium, the weapons and key issues see our briefing: http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/overview

International Scientists Support Call For Island Of Ireland Fracking Ban

i Aug 18th Comments Off by

3769435_370Afri welcomes the decision by Northern Ireland Environment Minister Mark Durkan not to award a license to Australian mining company Tamboran Resources who sought to begin test drilling work on the Cavan-Fermanagh border as part of its ambitious fracking plans for the island of Ireland. The group say nothing short of an all-Ireland ban on fracking is needed and that leaders in Dublin and Belfast should follow the lead of the French and German governments in banning fracking while prioritising renewable energy sources. According to Afri Coordinator Joe Murray, fracking is a short-sighted solution to job creation and energy supply, which he says compromises water supplies, farming, wildlife and air quality.

Afri’s campaign is backed up by leading international scientists who are supporting Afri’s online campaign for an all-Ireland ban on fracking.

These include renowned scientist Dr. Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University who said:

“We know we need to be heading towards a near zero emission energy and transportation systems. Expansion of the dirtiest corners of the fossil fuel industry is a step in the wrong direction. We need to be developing and deploying the near zero emission clean energy technologies of the future, not expanding last century’s archaic energy system. We can no longer afford to be building energy and transportation systems that assume we can continue to use the sky as a waste dump.” (more…)

Ban Fracking On The Island Of Ireland

i Aug 6th Comments Off by

3769435_370The island of Ireland is one of the greenest places on the planet but global energy corporations want to put an end to this. The fracking industry have big plans for both sides of the border and we need to act fast to stop them.

We can’t sit back and let our land and water be destroyed by those who promise us the earth while destroying it in the process.

Despite huge opposition, fracking work has commenced in scenic County Fermanagh and plans are in place for nearby Leitrim. Other areas under threat include the Antrim, Down, Derry, Donegal, Sligo, Roscommon, Cavan, Monaghan, Clare, Cork and Kerry.

Demand a fracking ban on the island of Ireland by signing and sharing our petition now. Each time someone signs it, key politicians will get an email urging them to act. Sign here or read on: https://www.change.org/petitions/ban-fracking-on-the-island-of-ireland (more…)

Shannonwatch Welcomes Attempts by TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace to Inspect US Military Aircraft at Shannon Airport

i Jul 23rd Comments Off by

Shannonwatch, 22 July 2014

Shannonwatch welcomes attempts by TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly to inspect US military aircraft at Shannon earlier today. At a time when the airport may be helping to supply the weapons used by Israel to kill and main civilians in Gaza, it is vitally important that we have proper oversight of what is on the military planes at the airport. Despite repeated requests, the authorities refuse to search the planes to ensure they are not in breach of international law.

“We are being told repeatedly that there is no proof there are illegal weapons on the planes” said Mick Wallace. “It is nonsense to suggest that none of them are involved in military operations or that there are no weapons on board these planes, which is what the government says. But because the authorities won’t search the planes to find out if that is the case, people like us have to do it.” (more…)

Blood Fruit

i Jul 15th Comments Off by
At the premiere of "Blood Fruit" in Galway: (from left to right) Theresa Mooney, Karen Gearon, Sinead O'Brien (film director), Cathryn O'Reilly, Liz Deasy, Michelle Gavin, Sandra Griffin, Joe Murray (Afri) and Mary Manning.

At the premiere of “Blood Fruit” in Galway: (from left to right) Theresa Mooney, Karen Gearon, Sinead O’Brien (film director), Cathryn O’Reilly, Liz Deasy, Michelle Gavin, Sandra Griffin, Joe Murray (Afri) and Mary Manning.

Members of Afri were delighted to attend the premiere of ‘Blood Fruit’ in Galway recently. Director Sinead O’Brien has ensured that the eventual telling of this extraordinary story on the big screen was worth the long wait. The film recounts the story of ten exceptional young workers in Dunnes Stores in Henry Street who took the courageous decision to refuse to handle ‘the fruits of apartheid’ in 1984. This decision was to have major consequences for the workers themselves – being locked out for more than 2 years – and internationally as the story became known around the world. It resulted in a rare and amazing victory when the Irish Government banned the importation of fruit and vegetables from South Africa.

The film relays the experience of the daily drudgery on the picket line as well as their invitation to address the UN, their meeting with Desmond Tutu en route to receive the Nobel Peace prize and their abortive visit to South Africa where they were held by armed police before being sent home on the next plane. This is a compelling and inspiring story which should be compulsory viewing for people of all ages, reflecting what is best in human nature – the ability to empathise with the suffering of others even in faraway places and to express solidarity to the point of making a real and significant difference.

Nelson Mandela had said that the action of the strikers had helped him during his imprisonment and, in a message sent to the strikers via Afri for the premiere, Archbishop Tutu saluted them, describing them as ‘a beacon of hope’ and ‘part of the history of South Africa’s struggle for freedom’.

Afri supports Palestinian Appeal for Solidarity and Humanitarian Intervention

i Jul 15th Comments Off by

The on-going humanitarian crisis in Gaza has in recent times once more reached such a level of frenzied depravity that it is too easy to become frozen in a kind of shocked paralysis. The fact that it comes amidst a persecution by the Israeli powers of the Palestinian people that has spanned many decades and the earthly lives of countless Palestinian souls, makes it seem all the more unjust and no less intensely disturbing.

Horribly stuck in a traumatic historical time warp, it is as if the crimes of past wars have achieved the ultimate victory over humanity by the perpetuation of these same crimes by their victims on other human beings.

The parallels between the terrible crime against humanity that was the genocide of the Jewish and other people by the Nazi regime, and the crimes against humanity and apparent genocide being conducted by Israel against the Palestinian people today, are so obvious that it seems redundant to even speak of them.

Yet in the face of an impotent international political system and an international community that, for the most part, remains resolutely silent in the face of such crimes, then failing to speak of these parallels (when recognising the sovereignty of all life) is a kind of treason: a betrayal not just of innocent Palestinian civilians but of humanity everywhere. (more…)

Afri alarmed by Irish companies supplying US army and military industry

i Jul 8th Comments Off by

Shannon

Press release

The justice and peace group Afri has expressed alarm at the extent to which Irish companies are involved in supplying military equipment, including to the US army. Afri first brought this issue of Irish participation in  the military industry to light when it published the ‘Links’ Report in 1996, demonstrating the early stages of this trend of supplying such components.

Afri condemns the practice of companies making profits on the back of human suffering and misery caused by war and violence. Irish companies are supplying components, including parts for drones to one of the most aggressive military forces on the planet, the US army, which has been involved in the slaughter of tens of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. This, along with the use of Shannon as a war-port, places Ireland ever closer to the heart of the US war machine. (more…)

Airing Erris 3: Focus on policing

i Jul 7th Comments Off by
Willie Corduff speaking as Denis Halliday (right) looks on.  Photo: Brian Fitzpatrick

Willie Corduff speaking as Denis Halliday (right) looks on. Photo: Brian Fitzpatrick

The third episode in the “Airing Erris” series was held yesterday in Ceathrú Thaidhg in Erris, County Mayo.  This episode focussed on policing and included contributions from former UN assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday, Goldman Environmental prize winner Willie Corduff, former Garda and Human Rights Monitor Bernard McCabe, peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy and investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty.  Garda Whistleblower John Wilson, also attended, and spoke about his experiences of Garda corruption.

The event was livestreamed by Atlantic Livestream and can be watched again here.

Lorna Siggins also wrote an article about the event in the Irish Times: Ex-UN official calls for presidential commission to investigate Garda

An International Ban on Killer Robots is needed now

i Jul 2nd Comments Off by

Noel Sharkey, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the University of Sheffield, has said an international ban must be put in place now, before one country starts using them in conflict, opening the door to others to follow suit.

Speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum in Copenhagen, Professor Sharkey noted that so far no nation has openly used entirely autonomous aircraft, submarines, surface vessels or tanks that are capable of tracking, selecting, targeting and deploying weapons entirely by themselves and based on algorithms. However,  such systems are already being developed by a number of countries, including the US, China, Israel, Taiwan and Russia. However,  because they have not yet been used, an opportunity is there to ban them before nations race to develop and start using them.

To read more: click here

Professor Sharkey was also interviewed about the Campaign to Ban Killer Robots on RTE: click here

Gerry Conlon Address at Chelsea Manning Solidarity Event

i Jun 24th Comments Off by

In Autumn of 2013, Afri was approached by Ciaron O’Reilly and asked if we would host a visit to Ireland by the family of Chelsea Manning. We were, of course, delighted to do so and to organise a Solidarity meeting in Trinity College onNovember 29th. Among the speakers at that meeting was Gerry Conlon who gave this profoundly moving and passionate address.

Airing Erris 3: Sunday July 6th

i Jun 18th Comments Off by

Airing Erris 3 with a special message from Desmond Tutu and featuring Willie Corduff, Denis Halliday, Margaretta D’Arcy, Bernard McCabe and Gemma O’Doherty will take place in Erris on 6th July. The event will be live-streamed by Atlantic Stream via the following link:
https://new.livestream.com/AtlanticStreamAiring Erris_3_Final (Custom)

Call for a Public Inquiry into the Policing of the Shell/Corrib Gas Project

i Jun 17th Comments Off by

We support the recent demands for an inquiry into allegations of systemic Garda corruption and violence. We believe any such inquiry should include the Shell/Corrib pipeline police operation in North West Mayo. This is one of the longest running police operations in the history of the Irish state and has drawn critical attention from national and international human rights organisations [1] since 2006 over the alleged violence and intimidation used by Gardaí against campaigners.

In 2007, campaigners submitted complaints en masse against the Gardaí to the newly established Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC). Out of the 111 complaints received by GSOC between May 2007 and November 2009, 78 were deemed admissible and 7 sent to the DPP. The DPP rejected prosecution in all 7 cases. The majority of campaigners have since stopped submitting complaints to GSOC. In 2010, complaints from 400 Kilcommon residents were submitted to Shell’s Belmullet office detailing the “escalating physical and psychological harassment” continuing in the area. In 2012, residents again submitted a mass complaint, this time to Mayo County Council, outlining serious grievances arising out of the project, including experiences of private security and state policing, with no result. Any inquiry into the policing of the Shell/Corrib Gas Project cannot ignore the following extract from the minutes of the Shell Committee of Managing Directors meeting held in London 22/23 July 2002: “It was noted that development of the Corrib field may be delayed until 2004 as planning consent had been refused for the terminal. The committee queried whether the Group had sufficiently well placed contacts with the Irish government and regulators. Paul Skinner undertook to explore this issue further in consultation with the Country Chairman in Ireland”. [2]

In 2007, GSOC requested to conduct a “practice, policy and procedure” investigation into the police operation but this was turned down by the then Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan. In 2009, the then Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy ignored recommendations from GSOC that a senior Garda on the operation face disciplinary action. The following year, two officers on secondment to GSOC tasked with addressing the body of complaints in relation to the policing of the Shell/Corrib gas project gave their apologies to campaigners before returning to New Zealand. In 2011, following the tape controversy, in which members of the Gardaí were recorded joking about raping and deporting female protestors, campaigners publicly stated that they believed GSOC’s response to the controversy amounted to “blame the victim” tactics through a campaign of spin and misinformation. Quite understandably, there is now no faith in GSOC as it currently exists and any inquiry by GSOC into the Shell/Corrib gas police operation would be dysfunctional, particularly as this inquiry should include the failings of GSOC. (more…)

Irish Government should promote health, education and overseas aid – not useless weapons of war

i Jun 17th Comments Off by

The justice and peace group Afri have expressed dismay at the revelation that the Irish army plans to spend over €4m on upgrading its air defence missile system. The Army stated that the purpose of the missile system is to “take out enemy aircraft” and elaborated on this unlikely scenario by stating that the missiles in question would “deter hostile actions”.

Extraordinarily, this monumental waste of resources is occurring at the same time as health, education, social welfare and overseas development aid budgets continue to be cut causing intense suffering to some of the most vulnerable people in our society and on our planet.

Afri raises the question as to where the ‘hostile action’ is likely to come from that would require such weapons, suggesting that the real agenda is being set by NATO (towards which Ireland is moving ever closer) with its push towards ‘interoperability’ and aggressive military actions. Where does this fit with Ireland’s traditional neutrality, which has been shown to be strongly supported by Irish people in successive opinion polls? For example, a Red C poll carried out for the Peace and Neutrality Alliance in 2013 showed 78% of people support Irish neutrality, an essential element of which is non-participation in aggressive military alliances and minimal military spending.

Afri calls on the Labour Party in particular to clarify where its priorities lie in terms of such spending. Afri believes that this bizarre decision is representative of why the Labour Party is being wiped out in Government. Labour is clearly not listening to its voters by subscribing to and supporting such obscene choices as spending on missile systems while cutting health, education and overseas development aid.

Date for your Diary: Airing Erris 3, 6th July 2014

i Jun 12th Comments Off by

glengadfrommtnLook out for the 3rd installment of the series of events entitled “Airing Erris”. This event will focus on the policing of the Corrib Gas project and will take place in An tSeanscoil, Ceathrú Thaidhg, Co. Mayo at 1pm on Sunday July 6th.

Further information to follow.

To find out more about the other events in the Airing Erris series:

Airing Erris 1: http://www.afri.ie/news-and-events/airing-erris-the-media-and-shell-corrib-2/

Airing Erris 2: http://www.afri.ie/news-and-events/airing-erris-journalism-has-been-infected-by-corporate-public-relations/

Remember the Citizenship Referendum?

i Jun 11th Comments Off by

Citizenship PhotoAfri was pleased to support the ‘Remembering the Citizenship Referendum’ event outside Dáil Éireann today. This marks the 10th anniversary of this dark day in our recent history and many of the migrant speakers reminded us of the shocking legacy it has left children born into a limbo state in the last decade.

Comparisons were made with the treatment of children in the ‘mother and baby’ homes which is the source of such recent horror. There were also many references to the appalling system known as ‘Direct Provision’ in which people are given just over €19 per week to live on. One woman who grew up in apartheid South Africa saying that she felt she had left that behind but now finds an apartheid-like approach at work in the direct provision system.

Well done to all those involved in organizing today’s event.

Nobel Peace Laureates Call for Preemptive Ban on Autonomous Weapons

i May 14th Comments Off by

Statement by Nobel Peace Laureates

In April 2013 in London, a group of nongovernmental organizations – most associated with the successful efforts to ban landmines and cluster munitions – publicly launched the “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.” Their efforts have helped bring the issue of fully autonomous weapons to a broader audience and spur governments to begin discussions on these weapons this May in Geneva.

We, the undersigned Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, applaud this new global effort and whole-heartedly embrace its goal of a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons that would be able to select and attack targets on their own. It is unconscionable that human beings are expanding research and development of lethal machines that would be able to kill people without human intervention.

Not all that long ago such weapons were considered the subject of science fiction, Hollywood and video games. But some machines are already taking the place of soldiers on the battlefield. Some experts in the field predict that fully autonomous weapons could be developed within 20 to 30 years; others contend it could even be sooner. With the rapid development of drones and the expansion of their use in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and beyond, billions of dollars are already being spent to research new systems for the air, land, and sea that one day would make drones seem as quaint as the Model T Ford does today.

Too many applaud the so-called success of drone warfare and extol the virtues of the weapons. While these unmanned aircraft can fly thousands of miles from home base on their own, they still require individuals watching computer screens to fire its weapons and attack a target. Already over 70 countries have drones and many are looking to develop methods to make them ever more autonomous and create new lethal robots that will, in fact, kill human beings on their own.

Those who favor the development of autonomous lethal robots make many arguments on their behalf. They note that such machines do not put soldiers’ lives at risk nor do they tire or become frightened. Emotion would not cloud their decision-making. They also say that ultimately lethal autonomous robots will be cheaper than manned systems and laud that feature in these times of cutting government budgets.

But not everyone supports the arguments. In it very aptly entitled report, “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots,” Human Rights Watch outlined legal and other arguments against the development of such weapons. The report says that such robots will have serious challenges meeting tests of military necessity, proportionality and distinction, which are fundamental to the laws of war. Lethal autonomous weapons would also threaten essential non-legal safeguards for civilians. They would not be constrained by the capacity for compassion, which can provide a key check on killing civilians. These arguments were also brought to the fore in the report of the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial and arbitrary execution, Christoff Heyns, presented to the UN Human Rights Council in May 2013.

Of course a key argument for robotic weapons is that using them could reduce military casualties. On the flip side, many fear that leaving the killing to machines might make going to war easier and shift the burden of armed conflict onto civilians. The use of fully autonomous weapons raises serious questions of accountability. Who should be held responsible for any unlawful actions they commit? The military commander? The company that makes the robot? The company that produces the software? The obstacles to holding anyone accountable are huge and would significantly weaken the power of the law to deter future violations.

While there has been some heated debate about the dangers and possible virtues of such weapons, until now it had almost exclusively occurred among scientists, ethicists, lawyers and military. Even as killer robots loom over our future, there had been virtually no public discussion about the ethics and morality of fully autonomous weapons, let alone the implications and impact of their potential use.

But the work of the campaign is changing that and even in the lead-up to the April 23rd launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, interest and public awareness had begun to grow. The press has increasingly begun to report on killer robots with both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal running opinion pieces outlining the moral and legal perils of creating killer robots and calling for public discourse before it is too late.

Lethal robots would completely and forever change the face of war and likely spawn a new arms race. Can humanity afford to follow such a path? We applaud and support the efforts of civil society’s Campaign to Stop Killer Robots to help move us away from a possible future of robotic warfare.

 

Individuals:

Mairead Maguire (1976)

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1980)

President Lech Walesa (1983)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984)

President Oscar Arias Sánchez (1987)

Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992)

President F.W. de Klerk (1993)

President José Ramos-Horta (1996)

Jody Williams (1997)

John Hume (1998)

Shirin Ebadi (2003)

Muhammad Yunus (2006)

Leymah Gbowee (2011)

Tawakkol Karman (2011)

 

Organizations:

American Friends Service Committee (The Quakers) (1947) – Shan Cretin, General Secretary

Amnesty International (1978) – Salil Shetty, Secretary-General

International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997) – Sylvie Brigot-Vilain, Executive Director

International Peace Bureau (1910) – Colin Archer, Secretary-General

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985) – Michael Christ, Executive Director

Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (1995) – Jayathana Dhanapala, President