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Retaining Human Responsibility in the Development and Use of Autonomous Weapon Systems: On Accountability for Violations of International Humanitarian Law Involving AWS

Publisher: SIPRI
SIPRI, Stockholm:
October, 2022

It is undisputed that humans must retain responsibility for the development and use of autonomous weapon systems (AWS) because machines cannot be held accountable for violations of international humanitarian law (IHL). However, the critical question of how, in practice, humans would be held responsible for IHL violations involving AWS has not featured strongly in the policy debate on AWS. This report aims to offer a comprehensive analysis of that very question.  

This report explores how the two central frameworks structuring the ascription of responsibility for IHL violations—namely the rules governing state responsibility and individual criminal responsibility—apply to the development and use of AWS.  

The report aims to help policymakers (a) deepen their understanding of the conditions necessary to hold states and individuals accountable for IHL violations; (b) identify issues that would make IHL violations involving AWS development and use potentially difficult to discern, scrutinize and attribute; and (c) formulate policy measures that could help to uphold respect for IHL and overcome some of the challenges connected to holding actors legally responsible.  


1. Introduction

2. State responsibility for internationally wrongful acts in the development or use of AWS

3. Individual criminal responsibility for war crimes that involve the use of AWS

4. Challenges and opportunities for investigating IHL violations involving AWS

5. Key findings and recommendations


Dr Marta Bo is an Associate Senior Researcher within SIPRI’s Armament and Disarmament research area.
Laura Bruun is a Researcher in the SIPRI Governance of Artificial Intelligence Programme.
Dr Vincent Boulanin is Director of the Governance of Artificial Intelligence Programme at SIPRI.