Statement by Australia
Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons
12-16 December 2016
Australia is proud to be a party to the CCW. We are committed to its mandate of protecting civilians from the indiscriminate effects of certain conventional weapons, and of protecting combatants from weapons that cause unnecessary suffering. The commitments that we have made under the CCW reinforce the fundamental principles of International Humanitarian Law – to limit the means and methods of warfare, and to prohibit the use of those weapons, projectiles or materials that cause unnecessary human suffering. Underlying these commitments is the fundamental recognition of our common humanity.
As technological developments increasingly offer machine autonomy – and the prospect of artificial intelligence - militaries throughout the world seek to incorporate more automation into their systems. Autonomous systems able to conduct targeted military operations, which can kill and injure combatants or civilians, are in prospect. Australia recognises the potential value that autonomous systems could bring to military and civilian technologies, and considers a sweeping prohibition of autonomous weapons systems to be premature. However, we need to consider the applications and ramifications of such technology, and how its use is, or may be, governed by international law. Therefore, we support continuing, thorough discussions within the CCW on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, their evolution and their compliance with International Humanitarian Law.
Such future discussions might also usefully consider the potential risks of global proliferation of autonomous weapons systems. Autonomous weapons technology, whether software or hardware, will likely not remain exclusively in the hands of the state in which it is first developed. There will be a risk that such technologies could be transferred to, or acquired by, non-state armed groups or other irresponsible actors. Further research into the risks of proliferation, especially of potentially low cost autonomous weapons systems, could thus constitute a useful endeavour within the CCW.
We would like to thank Ambassador Biontino for his successful chairmanship of the 2016 Meeting of Experts on LAWS in April, and his careful stewardship of the processes before and since this meeting. We welcome the recommendations of the outcome document of the April meeting, and support the establishment an open-ended Group of Governmental Experts to further discuss Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems.
We strongly urge all states to conduct legal reviews of all new weapons, methods and means of warfare, either in accordance with their obligations under Article 36 of Amended Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, or as a matter of state policy. In Australia, the development or deployment of any new weapon or means of warfare is subject to a rigorous weapons review process to ensure compliance with International Humanitarian Law. Australia does not deploy, develop or procure weapons, or means or methods of warfare -- that do not comply with International Humanitarian Law.
In the context of LAWS discussions, we encourage sharing of best practice on Article 36 reviews. With autonomy, artificial intelligence and machine learning evolving rapidly, we recognise the challenges we all face in reviewing new weapons systems. Particularly challenging will be the testing, verification and review of weapons systems which are designed to learn, and to change the way they operate as they learn.
Australia recognises the humanitarian impact of Mines other than Anti-Personnel Mines (MOTAPM) and supports more focused discussions on this issue within the framework of the CCW. Australia recognises that MOTAPM will continue to have a military utility for many states, particularly those with contested borders. We also note the economic cost to many states in replacing their inventories of anti-vehicle and anti-tank mines. However, undetectable and persistent MOTAPM pose unacceptable humanitarian risks to civilians. Australia continues to support an approach on MOTAPM that either increases detectability or restricts the use of these weapons, and focuses on minimising post-conflict harm as an appropriate focus for the work of the CCW.
Mindful of our commitment to Protocol III of the CCW, Australia is troubled by recent reports of the illegal use of incendiary weapons. We see no justification for the illegal use of white phosphorus or other incendiary weapons on civilians, civilian objects or military objectives located within a concentration of civilians. We urge states to meet their obligations under Protocol III and International Humanitarian Law; and we condemn any use outside these agreed rules.
As a co-sponsor of UN Resolution 71/46 on countering the threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Australia shares the deep concern expressed by fellow CCW states parties at the indiscriminate use and effects of IEDs and the increasing impacts of IED attacks worldwide. We also support the efforts of intergovernmental organisations, such as INTERPOL, to address and disrupt the terrorist use of IEDs through law enforcement. Australia recently provided a further A$160,000 to INTERPOL for a second tranche of its ‘Watchmaker South East Asia Implementation’ program, which builds on A$180,000 we committed last financial year. We would welcome other countries joining us in this cause. The programme will deliver a multi-agency operation against IED smuggling at strategic border crossing points at selected sites in our region.
Australia supports ongoing work on IEDs by the informal group of experts under Amended Protocol II. The group should continue to share lessons learned from, and where possible give further leverage to, the efforts of States and international organisations to address the unlawful use of IEDs and the humanitarian problems they create.
Australia maintains its commitment to the work of victim assistance under Protocol V of the CCW and under other disarmament conventions. We support the development of common approaches to victim assistance, consistent with the principle that the needs of all victims, be they victims of cluster munitions, anti-personnel mines or explosive remnants of war, are similar.
At last week’s Meeting of States Parties of the Mine Ban Convention in Santiago de Chile, we joined our fellow Convention on Cluster Munitions Coordinators on Victim Assistance and Cooperation and Assistance, the Coordinators on Victim Assistance for CCW Protocol V and the Mine Ban Convention Victim Assistance Committee, to launch two new publications. These aim to provide common guidance to States in the implementation of victim assistance obligations under the three Conventions: Guidance on an Integrated Approach to Victim Assistance (developed by the Convention on Cluster Munitions Coordinators with Australian funding); and Guidance on Victim Assistance Reporting (developed by the Mine Ban Convention Victim Assistance Committee). We commend these publications to all states parties.
We are disappointed that a number of states have not yet paid their contributions to the CCW, and indeed may not have paid them over a number of years. Such omissions by some states reduce the resources available for all member states collectively to meet our commitments. We urge states which have not yet paid their contributions to do so in full without further delay.
In conclusion, let me reaffirm that Australia welcomes the opportunity provided by this Fifth Review Conference to consider how to take forward work on LAWS, Mines Other Than Anti-Personnel Mines, IEDs, and other issues within the framework of the CCW, with the purpose of reinforcing our commitment to the fundamental principles of International Humanitarian Law.
Thank you Madam President.