Social Issues

It’s OUR racism

The following is a post by Mary T. Yelenick a White member of the Pax Christi USA Anti-Racism Team. It was originally posted on the Pax Christi USA website on 16 June 2020.

Our nation is drowning in the blood of African Americans murdered by white people – often (though not always) by police officers; frequently with impunity.

In March of 2020, Breonna Taylor, a young emergency medical technician in Louisville, was killed in her bedroom when the police – who kicked in the door and burst into her apartment to execute a no-knock warrant, actually intended for another person, at another address – executed her instead. Several weeks earlier, on February 23, Ahmaud Arbery, an African-American man, was ambushed and murdered by gun-toting, racial-epithet-wielding white men in Glynn County, Georgia as he jogged through a residential neighborhood. And on Memorial Day, 2020, a videotape captured the agonizing death in Minnesota of George Floyd, whose desperate pleas (as with those of onlookers) to a white police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, preventing him from breathing, were ignored.

Most white people I know – holding a wide variety of political views – have condemned the murder of Mr. Floyd.  Presumably, such condemnation should accompany any callous murder. Yet the reality is that many white people have historically resisted denouncing the killings of People of Color by whites. Instead, in the aftermath of such murders, many whites have scrambled to concoct reasons why the victim should bear at least some responsibility for his or her death – reasoning that, after all, the person killed was not only Black (thereby posing an implicit risk to whites), but also:

  • Was overweight, or not otherwise in good health – like Eric Garner, killed in Staten Island in 2012, whose anguished last words were, as were Mr. Floyd’s, “I Can’t Breathe!”) – and therefore bore some responsibility for his own death;
  • Had, in response to a police order to stop and show his hands, pulled from his jacket his wallet – like Amadou Diallo, who was shot 19 times in the middle of the night, just outside his apartment in the Bronx, by four plain-clothed New York City police officers (all of whom, despite having fired at Mr. Diallo a total of 41 bullets collectively, were later acquitted at trial);
  • Was wearing a “hoodie,” partially obscuring his face – which, after all, might reasonably frighten people in a largely-white neighborhood (like 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, visiting the apartment complex of his father’s girlfriend, whose self-appointed neighborhood protector/vigilante killer was subsequently acquitted by a jury);  or
  • Owned a gun – like Philando Castile, who after explaining to the officer who had pulled over the car carrying Mr. Castile, his fiancé, and their four-year-old child that Mr. Castile was in possession of a registered gun in the car, was nonetheless shot point blank by the officer (who was subsequently acquitted).

This fixation by some white people upon “explaining” why the Black victim – “if only” he or she had acted more reasonably – could have avoided death, reframes the death as an unfortunate, but avoidable, mistake, instead of the predictable outcome of a racist system that deems Black bodies expendable. White people, in other words, look for an “out”:  a way to avoid responsibility for the deaths of Black people caused by white police officers, or by white citizens, traced to the social system from which all  whites benefit. It is a sleight-of-hand: blame the victim, not the system – and thus, by definition, don’t blame “me.”

I wonder now whether we might not be witnessing a variation on that theme. The murder of George Floyd – perhaps because it unfolded in all its brutality on television and computer screens all across the country – has prompted a nationwide outpouring of public protests. The large crowds gathering in the streets of major cities all across the country  – notable not only for their size and multi-racial character, but also for the willingness of the protesters, congregating in large groups, to risk contracting the potentially-fatal coronavirus [1] – are expressing deep-seated anger, pain, and outrage.

For the most part, the large crowds are, by all accounts, peaceful. Yet there are also reports of some individuals – including white people, as well as People of Color –  destroying property (though it is not clear whether those individuals truly come from the ranks of the protesters themselves, or are instead disrupters, opportunists, or outside provocateurs seeing to influence media coverage). And that is where white “if onlys” are being heard anew, albeit in a slightly different context. Most whites seem to agree that Mr. Floyd’s murder was wrong. But many whites then add a coda, or caveat, to their condemnation: the protesters’ actions (presumably, they mean the looters’ actions) are wrong, too, given that some people from those crowds have engaged in destroying property. Accordingly, there is “bad” on “both sides.”

But is that not a false equivalence? Do we really place the destruction of property on the same moral plane as we do the destruction of human beings?

And are we white people – who have perpetuated, and who continue to benefit daily from, a rigged system that persists, generation after generation, in inflicting deadly harm on People of Color – now also entitled to judge the appropriateness of how victims of that system react? Who appointed us whites the arbiters of what, and whose, conduct is appropriate, in response to our highly-violent system of white supremacy?

And how do I – as a white peace-activist – respond to the death of George Floyd, and to the reactions of others to the death of George Floyd?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew the imperative and efficacy of nonviolence. He preached it. He modeled it. He died for it. He knew that nonviolence was the only effective, long-term way to counter violence. Responding to an oppressor’s violence with violence only serves to justify, in the oppressor’s (and often the onlooker’s) mind, reciprocal violence. And so the parties commit to a death spiral. It is only when violence is returned with love that the destructive character of the oppressor comes into sharp contrast with the life-giving character of the nonviolent responder. [2]

As a member of Pax Christi, I am firmly committed to nonviolence. I believe it to be the only force capable of disarming the world. And because I care very deeply about my sisters and brothers of Color; desire that they have the fullness of opportunity and respect that I experience daily; and yearn for an end to our nation’s system of white supremacy, I pray for the struggle to be undertaken in the manner that history has shown to be most likely to be effective, successful, and sustainable long-term:  through active, creative nonviolence. [3]

To the extent that some people in the crowds on the streets of our cities may be unfamiliar with, or too impatient to explore the philosophy and historical basis for, proceeding nonviolently creates a tension between what I personally believe should be done, and the way that someone else may choose to act. It is a tension with which I, as a white person, and also a peacemaker, must struggle. On the one hand, it is my own core belief that only nonviolence can defeat violence. But I also know that nonviolence takes time. It takes patience. It takes experience. It requires suspending the cathartic experience (one that should not be underestimated, for anyone who has long borne unspoken and unacknowledged pain) of smashing something, and directing suppressed energy outward.

How can I condemn a young person for expressing the depths of a lifetime of anguish? How often has the system of white supremacy softened its response to People of Color? Are we whites somehow to be given a pass from reaping what we have sown, for generations? How much grief and pain can people take, before they explode?

It is not my role to determine or criticize, nor try to shape, the response by any Person of Color, or anyone else, to white supremacy. I have more than enough to worry about regarding my own response, as a white person, to white supremacy. My obligation as a white person is to work to stop the behavior of, and challenge the presumptions by, white people (including myself), and our nation’s vast white-favoring systems, that trigger the necessity of a response by People of Color in the first place.

My obligation as a white person is to work for the abolition of our racist system, and of white supremacy. That requires me actively to engage with and challenge other white people; it also means changing my own behavior as a white person. It means deeply and honestly examining and recognizing the many ways in which I benefit, daily, as a white person, from the system of white supremacy. It means being conscious of the opportunities, relationships, access to power, presumed competence and credibility, [4] freedom to live, work, speak, and travel wherever and however I choose – the “free passes” that I take for granted, and have never been called to account for, simply because I am white.

It also means honoring what People of Color themselves decide they need to do. And it means offering my presence, my heart, and my soul, as an ally in that work – and also asking People of Color to be my allies (though not my saviors, nor dispensers of absolution), as well, to help me recognize the many ways I have to unlearn, and repudiate, my unearned privilege.

A sign carried by a white woman at one of the demonstrations, replayed on national media, read simply: “Listen to Black People.” And indeed, that is what we whites need to do.

But we cannot rely on People of Color – from whose psyches, energies, futures, and lives we whites have already demanded and extracted so much –  to “teach” us about racism; or soothe or reassure us that we had no real choice in constructing a system devised long before we were born; or otherwise salve our consciences. [5]

Racism persists because it benefits whites. We may not have actively worked to institute policies or practices of white supremacy. But every day that we as whites benefit from them, without actively seeking to dismantle them, we remain complicit in them.

We whites need to honestly name and confront – and work actively to eradicate – the structures of white domination and unearned white privilege that touch every aspect of our lives.

We whites have plenty of things to do other than to criticize the response of any Person of Color to the deadly system and strictures of white supremacy. We have plenty of our own work to do.

And if we whites do our job properly, our sisters and brothers of Color will finally be able to breathe.

____________

Mary T. Yelenick is a member of the Pax Christi USA Anti-Racism Team (PCART). She is deeply grateful for the comments and suggestions generously shared by other members of PCART regarding earlier drafts of this article. As always, every insight gained about the system of white privilege from which she benefits reveals how much more work she needs to do to recognize and work to dismantle that privilege.

____________

[1] THIS DANGEROUS RISK IS EXACERBATED BY THE FACT THAT AFRICAN-AMERICANS ARE CONTINUING TO FALL VICTIM TO THE CORONAVIRUS IN NUMBERS FAR GREATER THAN THOSE OF THEIR WHITE FELLOW CITIZENS, DUE TO THE HARSH LEGACY OF RACISM –INCLUDING HIGHER LEVELS OF POVERTY, INADEQUATE HOUSING, POOR NUTRITION, ILL HEALTH, AND THE TRAUMA PEOPLE OF COLOR EXPERIENCE DAILY IN OUR WHITE-SUPREMACIST SOCIETY.
[2] IN THE WORDS OF DR. KING, “IN WINNING OUR FREEDOM WE WILL SO APPEAL TO YOUR  HEART AND CONSCIENCE THAT WE WILL WIN YOU IN THE PROCESS.” STRIDE TOWARD FREEDOM:  THE MONTGOMERY STORY  (HARPER & ROW 1957), P. 94.
[3] SEE, E.G., WHY CIVIL RESISTANCE WORKS:  THE STRATEGIC LOGIC OF NONVIOLENT CONFLICT BY ERICA CHENOWETH AND MARIA STEPHAN (COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS AUGUST 2011) (NOTING THAT NONVIOLENT CAMPAIGNS ATTRACT GREATER NUMBERS AND A MORE DIVERSE COMPOSITION OF PARTICIPANTS, AND HAVE GREATER LONG-TERM SUCCESS, THAN DO VIOLENT STRUGGLES).
[4] A POWERFUL ARTICLE BY FR. BRYAN MASSINGALE, “THE ASSUMPTIONS OF WHITE PRIVILEGE AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT,”  (NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER, JUNE 1, 2020), OBSERVES THAT THE ACCOUNTS OF WHITE PEOPLE REGARDING A GIVEN SITUATION WILL LIKELY BE GIVEN GREATER CREDIBILITY BY LAW-ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS THAN WILL THOSE OF PEOPLE OF COLOR – WITH OFTEN DEADLY RESULTS (WITNESS OUR NATION’S HORRIFIC HISTORY OF LYNCHING). 
[5] I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT EVERY WHITE PERSON READ “WHITE FRAGILITY: WHY IT’S SO HARD TO TALK FOR WHITE PEOPLE TO TALK ABOUT RACISM” BY A WHITE WOMAN, ROBIN DIANGELO (BEACON PRESS 2018).

 

Social Issues

LIBERATION AND RECONCILIATION, 75 YEARS LATER: The aftermath of World War II

Laurens Hogebrink is a former board member of the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council (IKV) which merged with Pax Christi Netherlands into PAX. The picture is the German War Cemetery of Maleme (Crete) with 4,500 people buried. An earlier version of this blog was published by the Orthodox Academy of Crete.

In Europe we have just commemorated the 75th anniversary of the German surrender in May 1945. For us World War II was over, though not yet in the Far East. In the Netherlands, Liberation Day is 5 May, when German capitulation became effective. That is: in the northern part. The south had been liberated already in the fall of 1944, but then the Allies were unable to cross the large rivers dividing the Netherlands.

In other countries it is hardly known that during the remaining months of occupation the north suffered terribly from what we call ‘the hunger winter’. Some 20,000 people died from hunger and cold. I have lived in a house where pieces of the wooden beams had been chopped off for heating.

Because of corona all large commemorations were cancelled, but our main news agency continues its daily news bulletins about events of 75 years ago as if they happened today. They will not stop until Japan’s capitulation in August. It is confronting. I am learning a lot more about the daily suffering in my country also after liberation. A grave has been discovered in the dunes with ten missing members of the resistance. A ship has arrived in Marseille coming from Odessa with survivors of Auschwitz. One of them is Otto Frank, the father of Anne. He hopes to be reunited with his two daughters. A few weeks ago, 120,000 German soldiers have marched back to Germany, leaving looted towns behind.

Of course, I knew about the German terror bombing of Rotterdam on 14 May 1940, about the crimes by the Germans during five years occupation, and about the destruction and victims during the liberation war in 1944/1945. The home of my grandparents was burned. There were also mistakes by the Allies, such as the bombing of Nijmegen which killed 400 people.

But these daily news bulletins add a new sense of how it must have been. And how it must have felt. They tell about village after village being conquered, often with very heavy civilian losses. Some look similar to German towns after the war. History books can only give a summary, but in these daily news bulletins it goes on, day after day, week after week. History becomes story after story.

For many people liberation meant ongoing suffering. Of course, I knew how strongly this applied to the few Jews who returned. Their homes were taken by other Dutch people, their relatives were gone. I also knew that on 5 May a huge crowd was celebrating liberation on the Dam Square in Amsterdam. Suddenly, German soldiers in a nearby building opened fire and killed 30 people. Similar things happened even in small villages. Liberation?

There was the mourning of the dead. And what about the uncertainty, not only among Jews, about the thousands who had been deported? How did this feel, day after day? In October 1944 a German officer was killed by the resistance near the village of Putten. The Germans revenged by setting more than 100 houses afire and deporting some 600 men to German concentration camps. Already on 14 April 1945 Putten was liberated by Canadian tanks, but the fate of the men remained unknown. People kept hoping. Then, on 10 May, five days after Liberation Day, there was news. In a packed church, in dead silence, the reformed minister read the names of 180 men who were now known to be dead. And the others? Eventually, it turned out that 550 of the 600 had been murdered or had died of hunger, disease and exhaustion. Liberation?

In these bulletins the war happens today. But how should we look at it 75 years later? For instance, I keep writing: ‘the Germans’. The Germans bombed, the Germans killed. But when I talk about the war with my German friends they often say ‘the Nazi’s’. The Nazi’s bombed Rotterdam. The Nazi’s executed hostages. I can fully respect this. They are a new generation – and a generation that has dealt with the war in a far more serious way than has been the case in many other countries. (Take France and the silence about the Vichy regime! Or take the Dutch inability to deal with our colonial past.) I admire this, it is impressive. Still, we will keep saying ‘the Germans’. Of course, we know that not all Germans were Nazi’s, that also many Germans died in concentration camps, that there were German resistance groups. Still, this is how we look at the war.

But – and this is my point – this is also how we look at what happened after the war. Very soon reconciliation processes started. They were not about reconciliation with ‘the Nazi’s’. They were about reconciliation with the Germans. The German people.

Some initiators of reconciliation had suffered in concentration camps. Then they saw in Germany the suffering there. The millions of refugees. The children without parents playing in the ruins of their homes. The hunger. The diaconal help they set up became crucial for post-war ecumenical work in Europe. Reconciliation started with recognizing the daily reality of suffering.

Parallel to this was the political work. Some of the ecumenical pioneers were also pioneers of European integration. Don’t repeat the mistakes after World War I, our future in Europe must be a future together. Indeed. What today is the European Union is the most important reconciliation project of the 20th century.

Last October I was on Crete. In May 1941 the Germans invaded Crete. They were met with fierce resistance, not only by Allied troops, also by villagers. The Germans revenged. I saw several places with stories like the one of Putten. But I also visited both the Commonwealth and German war cemeteries. And as part of the commemorations in my own country I have stood at American, British, Canadian and also German graves. I often do. There I can just think of young men, parents, wives and children, one generation ago.

But when driving home I think of the future. The current threats for European integration. The returning anti-semitism and extremism. White supremacy. Exclusive nationalism in Europe. Armed militias in the US. The corona crisis is feeding this dangerous polarization. In Europe the war is over, but every single day I read about its aftermath. Every single day I am reminded that working for a united, reconciled Europe is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.

Peace

For the 75th anniversary of Pax Christi International, let’s blow out the candles together!

PCI 75 donation gateau post websiteAround the world, we work to make peace and nonviolence a way of life.

It’s not easy every day. But our mission is just and—more than ever—we are motivated to lead humankind to more serene and peaceful pathsDiscover our history.

With new campaigns to celebrate 75 years, a special logo and many other actions throughout this anniversary year, Pax Christi has decided to share its message of joy with as many people as possible. Discover our campaign.

For all these years, Pax Christi International has been working with your help. We bring experience wherever we can to resolve conflict situations through nonviolence. Our goal is to transform our earth into a more just, nonviolent, and peaceful world.

You can participate in this change by supporting us through donations, volunteering or becoming a member of our movement. Discover our network.

Whatever your contribution, it will be welcome.

Through us and with your help, let us build a peaceful world.

Nonviolence, Nuclear Disarmament, Peace

A Theological Foundation for Rejecting the Possession and Use of Nuclear Weapons

Marie Dennis (former co-president of Pax Christi International) and Ken Butigan (Pace Bene) reflect on a Theological Foundation for Rejecting the Possession and Use of Nuclear Weapons:

The Universal Ethic of Nonviolence Rooted in the Life and Mission of Jesus

read more : click here

Peace

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

Picture22bis
From left: Ri Ki Ho, First Secretary, North Korean Mission to the UN; Kim Won-wung, South Korean, President, Heritage of Korean Independence; Lee Jae-jung, South Korean National Assembly Member.
BY DOUG HOSTETTER

Looking for peace in difficult places

People often seem surprised when they learn I have spent a significant time in recent years working on peace with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea. Perhaps it is the combination of who I am and where I work that has given me the passion for peacebuilding in one of the most difficult regions of the world.

I am a peace pastor in the Mennonite church and work as part of the advocacy team of Pax Christi International, the international Catholic peace movement, at the United Nations. Mennonites and Catholic peace people take seriously the Sermon on the Mount.

Although North Korea and the United States do not have diplomatic relations, North Korea is a member of the United Nations and has diplomatic staff that live in New York and work out of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Mission to the United Nations. Some of my most important peacebuilding efforts in recent years have been reaching out and befriending North Korean diplomats and their families. North Koreans in the United States are restricted to a radius of 25 miles from Columbus Circle in New York City. My home, fortunately, is just within the permitted zone for North Korean diplomats.

 

Human relationships are the foundation of peacebuilding.

 

Some years ago, I invited the diplomats from the North Korean Mission to the U.N. for a picnic at my home, along with a South Korean Mennonite International Voluntary Exchange Program (IVEP) intern, a Korean-American Mennonite pastor friend and a few Korean American friends active in the peace movement. It was an amazing day, 20 North Korean diplomats, wives, children and grandchildren, fishing in the stream behind my home, eating, drinking, laughing and playing. There was no political talk or strategizing on that day (although those kinds of conversations did happen later, after trust had been established), just meeting the diplomats, their wives, children and grandchildren and enjoying each other’s company. It was through friendship and conversation that I learned that the North Koreans want the same things we do: safe communities for our families, health care and education for our children and grandchildren and meaningful and productive work for ourselves. At the end of the day, the senior North Korean ambassador came over to the young IVEP intern from South Korea and said, “This war has gone on too long. We really need to end the conflict and reunify our country.” The intern readily agreed.

Human relationships are the foundation of peacebuilding. The challenge in building relationships between Americans and Koreans from both the North and the South is formidable. North and South Korea do not have diplomatic relations with each other. Even phone, mail or email connections between the two Koreas is prohibited. The United States also does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea. North Korea is one of the countries whose citizens are prohibited from traveling to the United States, and a U.S. travel ban makes it illegal for any American to travel to North Korea without a Special Validation Passport. The travel ban has eliminated all tourism, academic and cultural travel by Americans to North Korea, although Mennonite Central Committee, American Friends Service Committee and a few other nongovernment organizations have received Special Validation Passports to travel to North Korea for small-scale humanitarian efforts. I have learned that personal encounter and face-to-face dialogue enhance understanding, dispels some of the stereotypes of the “other” and can even result in friendships that can lay the foundation for solving larger political problems. But with sanctions and travel restrictions, few Americans, South Koreans or others ever have an opportunity to meet a North Korean in person.

For the past two years, I have been working with religious leaders to organize a forum to bring together diplomats, scholars and peace activists from South Korea, the United States, Russia, China and Japan to meet with North Koreans. Our first challenge was to find a location where guests from around the world could meet personally with North Koreans. After considerable discussion we decided to organize our forum in New York at Columbia University, so North Korean diplomats at the U.N. could come to a location were others could meet them. We decided to organize the Global Peace Forum on Korea at the end of the week of the opening of the General Assembly of the U.N. with the hope that several scholars from Kim Il Sung University in North Korea would be able to come for the opening of the GA and participate in the peace forum. Unfortunately, both years we have organized this conference, none of our invited scholars from North Korea was able to get U.S. visas. But due to trust built through personal friendships, we did have full cooperation from North Korean U.N. diplomats. We invited more than 100 scholars, religious leaders, peace activists and a few government officials from South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the United States. I have been impressed by the fact that the participants of this forum paid their own way, often flying from Asia, for an opportunity to meet face-to-face and share ideas with North Koreans. U.N. officials who had also been invited commented that the Global Peace Forum on Korea was unique; it was the only meeting those officials had ever attended where the North Korean participants mingled and spoke freely with participants from the United States, South Korea and other nations.

 

Out of that amazing mix of scholars, religious leaders, peace activists and government officials, we reached a consensus that we all hoped would be a roadmap for government negotiations to follow.

 

Out of that amazing mix of scholars, religious leaders, peace activists and government officials, we reached a consensus that we all hoped would be a roadmap for government negotiations to follow: (1) ending the Korean War; (2) calling the United States and North Korea to take reciprocal steps to de-escalate tensions and normalize relations; (3) requesting that North Korean actions in disarmament be responded to with reciprocal U.S. lifting of economic sanctions; (4) calling for the creation of a nuclear-free zone on the Korean Peninsula as relations are normalized and sanctions against North Korea are lifted. With the failure of the Hanoi Summit and the United States blocking inter-Korean efforts to connect roads and railroads between their countries, we reaffirmed our roadmap for negotiations and chose the theme for this year, “Making Connections : Global Challenges, Korea and Peaceful Coexistence.” The organizers continue to believe relationships between people across the national and ideological boundaries are the building blocks for the political consensus needed for building peace on the Korean Peninsula. Religious leaders gave strong support for this effort. Jim Winkler, president of the National Council of Churches, gave a keynote speech with warm greetings and encouragement from Cardinal Joseph Tobin, and Peter Prove, director of the International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, offered closing remarks. We also heard messages of support and encouragement from former President Jimmy Carter and Rosemary DiCarlo, the U.N. Undersecretary General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. The unique strength of the peace forum, however, was the personal involvement of the North Korean diplomats, who made themselves available to speak, listen and build relationships with the other participants. These relationships have the power to turn enemies into friends.

Doug Hostetter
is peace pastor at Evanston (Ill.) Mennonite Church, member of the Pax Christi International UN Advocacy Team and a Co-Chair of Global Peace Forum on Korea.

Love Your Enemies was first published in the December issue of The Mennonite, and is being reprinted with their permission.

Peace

Another Terrible Weapon The Nuclear Minority Refuses To Ban

By:  Jonathan Frerichs 

        UN representative for disarmament, Geneva, Pax Christi International           

        26 November 2019

This is an up-date about the effort to prohibit autonomous weapons. The opposition to a ban brings to mind the same apartheid-style dynamics which allow a few states to have nuclear weapons. Now there are signs of a similar double standard emerging around killer robots. Pax Christi International is a member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

The CCW, a Geneva-based convention designed to prohibit especially bad weapons, has been discussing lethal robotic weapons since 2013.  Its findings mostly point to the urgent need to impose a pre-emptive ban on any weapon which would select and kill human beings on its own.

This year’s “debate” ended 14-16 November 2019 and the outcome was modest once again.

States parties to the CCW agreed to adopt a brief set of “guiding principles” developed over the last two years.  These are rather broad, for example, international law shall apply to all future weapons systems and humans are responsible and accountable for the use of weapons which have autonomous capabilities.  The CCW says it will aim to “operationalize” the principles in the next two years.

So little has been accomplished that news stories from previous CCW meetings could be recycled. “Yet again, a small group of military powers have shown an appalling lack of ambition and zero sense of urgency…on lethal autonomous weapons systems,” the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots said earlier in 2019, and much the same in 2018 as well.

Which states are blocking constructive action?  Russia, USA, Israel, United Kingdom and Australia, in the main.  All either have or rely on nuclear weapons.  They argue that existing international law is sufficient.  Yet they and other nuclear-dependent states haven’t fulfilled their legal obligation under the NPT to eliminate nuclear weapons.  They refuse to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which is largely based on International Humanitarian Law and reinforces the NPT.

Many of the other states in the CCW want new legal controls based on IHL.  The guardian of the laws of war, the International Committee of the Red Cross, is calling for new rules to address the legal, ethical and humanitarian concerns raised by autonomous weapons

The blockers also give short shrift to calls for rigorous application of International Human Rights Law to autonomous weapon systems.  Yet it was the UN Human Rights Council which first brought the issue of killer robots to the CCW out of concern for extra-judicial killings.

While a few powerful states dither and delay, technology is steadily advancing.  Weapons with algorithms that select and strike targets on their own are not much “smarter” than the self-driving cars being tested today.

Fortunately, support for common-sense controls and preventive measures is building–at the CCW and far beyond. Recent examples:

  • 30 countries plus the Non-Aligned Movement of 120 states are calling for a prohibition of fully autonomous weapons.
  • Austria, Brazil and Chile are calling for a CCW mandate to negotiate “a legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems.
  • In September 2018, the European Parliament called for negotiations of such a ban.
  • Foreign ministers of Germany and Belgium have called for a ban.
  • More than 60-percent of the public in 26 countries are opposed to the development of weapons that would select and attack targets on their own, according to a recent poll.
  • 4,500 AI experts and 116 CEOs of robotics companies have called on the United Nations to take action on robotic weapons systems.
  • More than 240 tech companies and 3,200 tech workers have pledged never to develop, produce or use autonomous weapons systems.
  • The Synod of the Protestant Church in Germany called for a ban on killer robots while the CCW was meeting in November.

The core of this majoritarian concern is to respect the moral threshold that machines must not be allowed to kill people.

Nuclear weapons pose a grave risk which a large majority of states have addressed unequivocally.  Killer robots impose a responsibility which many states are recognizing, which no state can escape and which all states must answer.