Sierra Leone Hosts First Regional Conference on Autonomous Weapons

Sierra Leone Hosts First Regional Conference on Autonomous Weapons

Bintumani Conference,
Aberdeen Freetown -17th April 2024-

ECOWAS Foreign Ministers, Security Experts, and Artificial Intelligence Specialists Wednesday commenced a two-day workshop at the Bintumani Conference Center in Freetown to discuss sub-regional regulatory measures that would inform a global treaty in the near future on the use and control of Autonomous Weapons.

Welcoming other ECOWAS Foreign Ministers, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Musa Timothy Kabba, underscored the urgent need for a regional ECOWAS conference to address the rapidly advancing and menacing military technology known as autonomous weapons systems.
“We are gathered here today against the background of multiple global crises that have put a strain not only on the international order, but also on our political, legal, and ethical systems – the current conflict situations …, the climate change crisis with its attendant costs, and the geopolitical instabilities rocking the foundation of our global system”, he said.
Kabbah described the Autonomous Weapons System as a lethal new threat to global security and human dignity in conflict situations.

He said the implications of the use of such systems are not only dangerous but indicative of a deterioration of valued principles of accountability and responsibility which are protected by International Law.

Giving the significance of the ECOWAS sub-regional conference on autonomous weapons systems, Kabbah said that it seeks to critically assess and analyze these new phenomena in military hardware and their application in conflict situations, with the view to decide on a regional position on their existence or application in contribution to the global efforts to establish a regulatory framework through a legally binding international instrument.
Though ECOWAS recognizes developments in other regions regarding decisions and declarations on autonomous weapons and the growing field of Artificial Intelligence, he said, they also had a responsibility to be a part of discussions concerning security, peace, and human dignity.
“My hope is that this Conference will serve to unite us for a formidable regional voice regarding autonomous weapons systems and their use in conflicts”, the minister said.

He said ECOWAS owes it to their people to initiate an African regional position on Autonomous Weapons and be part of the global response to the progressive discussions at the multilateral level, especially at the United Nations General Assembly and at the Human Rights Council since 2013.
“I therefore implore you all to use these few days in Freetown to build a regional policy that we would present on behalf of our various peoples to the international community indicating our standpoint on the issue of autonomous weapons systems,” he added.

Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio who gave the keynote address said the conference aligns with his country’s role as an elected member in the Non-Permanent Category of the UN Security Council, which advocates for a rules-based world order to enhance global security.
He said Autonomous Weapons Systems are emerging as one of the most fundamental challenges that confront the world’s collective responsibility to safeguard global peace, security, and human dignity.
“Autonomous Weapons Systems represent a significant advancement in technology, offering capabilities that were once in the realm of science fiction. However, with this advancement comes a range of complex ethical, legal, and security challenges that demand our urgent attention”, the president said.
President Bio said respective national leaders must ensure technologies are developed and used in a manner that upholds the principles of international law, human rights, and humanitarian values. Therefore, he said, the prospect of machines making life-and-death decisions on the battlefield is deeply troubling and demands rigorous debate and careful consideration.

“By bringing together experts, policymakers, and stakeholders from across the region, we can forge common understanding and develop strategies to address the challenges posed by Autonomous Weapons Systems”, Bio emphasized among other significant points.

Ambassador Dr Abdel-Fatao Musah, Commissioner of Political Affairs, Peace and Security of ECOWAS, underscored the timely hosting of such a crucial conference not only for Africa but for the world at a time when the evidence of a Third World War is glaring.

From the Directorate of Strategic Communications
MFAIC