Join global action against robot weapons, Institute of Church and Society urges FG

The Institute of Church and Society, a member of the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) which is the oldest ecumenical and interdenominational alliance in Nigeria, has urged the Federal Government of Nigeria to clearly articulate its views on the concerns raised in relation to fully autonomous weapons and commit to creating a new ban treaty to establish the principle of meaningful human control over the use of deadly force.

According to the institute, a new treaty should combine prohibitions as well as positive obligations to ban fully autonomous weapons and retain meaningful human control over the use of all systems that select and engage targets as surrendering the decision over life and death to a machine does not represent human advancement.

The institute which made the call in a letter signed by its Director, Very Rev. O. Kolade Fadahunsi which was submitted to Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said, “Humans have been created by God with the necessary capabilities to make decisions based on moral and ethical considerations, and to be accountable for the consequences of our actions when boundaries are crossed. The same can never be said of weapons operated by artificial intelligence.” 

According to the institute, the Christian Council of Nigeria, meeting in 1960 just before Nigeria attained her independence, resolved to undertake a study of Christian responsibility in independent Nigeria and a study which bordered on church and society, the church and political life, economic and social change, and the church in independent Nigeria, was carried out by the Rt. Rev. S. ­I. Kale and Dr Herbert Hogan.

“In May 1961, a national study-conference was called to consider this report. It was also recognized that in order to serve a useful purpose study needs to be continuous. A recommendation was therefore adopted by the conference that a study centre should be set up on an inter-church basis to enable a continuing study to be made of changes taking place around us in the light of the Christian faith. This study centre, known as the Institute of Church and Society, was set up by the Christian Council of Nigeria and commence work in May 1964.

“In November 2019, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) expressed grave concerns regarding the ethical implications of efforts by a number of countries to develop weapons systems with significant autonomy regarding the selection of targets. Such weapons, if developed to be fully autonomous would in effect make decisions on who lives and who dies.

“All meaningful real-time human control would be eliminated, and likewise the direct legal, ethical and moral responsibility and accountability for such decision-making. Moreover, the development of such weapons raises the spectre of a new and destabilizing robotic arms race,” the institute stated.

It further said that research has demonstrated how biases can even unintentionally be programmed into Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, and concerns are now being expressed that technology may be developed which would build racial profiling and bias into such weapons, leading to situations where people with certain features common to those of particular ethnicities such as skin colour, would be more at risk of being targeted by so-called ‘killer robots.’

“Since then, in conjunction with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the WCC has encouraged its member churches – both in countries that are developing such weapons systems and in those which are most likely to be affected by such weapons to advocate with their governments to stop any such development and to support an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems,” it said.

Discussions about the weapons are already taking place in the UN within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva. 30 states including seven from Africa; Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, Namibia, Uganda and Zimbabwe have already called for a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons but the small number of states opposing a ban has been able to block progress as the CCW operates on the basis of consensus.

The institute believes that in view of the urgency in addressing the threat, it is regrettable that the most recent meeting of the CCW scheduled for November 2020 did not go ahead in an online format following the cancellation of physical gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has called on the FG to clearly articulate its views on the concerns raised ahead of the re-scheduled meetings of the CCW in 2021. 

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