The focus of scholarly inquiry into the legality of autonomous weapon systems (AWS) has been on compliance with IHL rules on the conduct of hostilities. Comparably little attention has been given to the impact of AWS on human rights protection. This paper aims to close this gap and to support multilateral policy discussions on AWS. It examines the requirements and constraints that IHRL places on the use of force by means of an AWS, both in relation to the conduct of hostilities and for law enforcement purposes, in times of peace as well as during armed conflicts. The use of a ‘sentry-AWS’ to control a boundary, secure a perimeter or deny access to an area, for example along an international border – a possible application envisaged by proponents of AWS – forms the backdrop to the legal discussion. The paper finds that, although AWS tend to be portrayed as ‘weapons of war’, IHL would never be the sole, and in many instances, it would not be the primary legal frame of reference to assess the legality of their use.
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