Expert Meeting on Distinction and Discrimination under IHL

Published 2 October 2023

On 11 October 2023, the DILEMA Project is organising a pre-conference closed expert meeting on the topic of ‘Distinction and Discrimination under International Humanitarian Law and Military Applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI): Requirements, Risks and Red Lines’. The expert meeting will gather a small group of experts and is by invitation only.


Objective and Scope

Policy and academic discussions have extensively explored the implications of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled technologies, including autonomous weapon systems (AWS), for military targeting practices and international law. However, more than a decade into this debate, foundational questions regarding the use of these systems and compliance with key international humanitarian law (IHL) rules remain unresolved. The principle of distinction is a frequently debated rule that demands special attention due to its fundamental importance in IHL. While the principle of distinction prohibits making the civilian population the object of direct attack, through the rule of discrimination it also prohibits indiscriminate attacks. While it is universally agreed that indiscriminate attacks (i.e., attacks that are not directed at a specific military objective, or that result from the employment of means or methods that cannot be so directed or the effects of which cannot be limited according to IHL) are prohibited, it remains debated whether compliance with this rule is further complicated by the use of AI-enabled technologies.

This expert meeting seeks to generate closer consideration of this issue with respect to sensor-based targeting systems that leverage AI, including either rule-based or data-driven AI. In clarifying how distinction and discrimination apply to and are impacted by these military applications of AI, the meeting will focus on the interplay between the rule of distinction and discrimination in the assessment of the lawfulness of an attack.