Mary Wareham graduated from Te Herenga Waka in 1995 with a Master of Arts in Political Science, equipping her with skills for the research, writing, and advocacy that she has done since.

“I studied what interested and motivated me at university. I also sought to leverage my proximity to the activists, officials, parliamentarians, and journalists of New Zealand’s capital city.”

Mary says her supervisors were unfailingly encouraging and positive about her study choices, which bolstered her confidence, taught her how to network, and re-affirmed the values she grew up with.

“One notion I grew up with in Wellington was that a principled position in foreign policy is not just a moral necessity but comes from public pressure—I grew up during the Springbok tour and protests against nuclear testing and ship visits. I was glad to find a professor at university who had advised New Zealand’s strategic approach to disarmament and arms control. This influenced my Master’s topic and set me on my career path.”

After her student days living on The Terrace and working as a DJ for Radio Active (the then student radio station), Mary worked briefly as a researcher for Parliament. It was a pivotal time in New Zealand’s history as the country switched electoral systems from first past the post to mixed member proportional voting.

In 1996, she was offered a job in Washington DC working for a United States humanitarian group that co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

“Within two years of moving to the US, landmines had been banned by 122 countries, including New Zealand, and I was at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo to witness the landmine campaign and my then boss, Jody Williams, receive this huge honour,” says Mary.

“It was life-changing to see the subject I had studied succeed, and it set the scene for my career over the past two decades.”

In 1998, Mary joined Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring and advocacy organisation known for its investigations, reporting, and advocacy, and has been with them ever since, apart from a two-year stint at Oxfam New Zealand.

Mary advocates for the arms division of the organisation, working to advance humanitarian disarmament and enhance protections for civilians.

In 2012, Human Rights Watch co-founded the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, with Mary as its global coordinator. The campaign’s goal is a new international treaty to prevent automated killing in warfare, policing, and other situations.

Since then, governments have acknowledged the campaign’s concerns over the dangers of removing human control from weapons, starting diplomatic talks in 2013. The coalition has grown from a handful of non-governmental organisations to 180 in more than 65 countries. Media coverage of emerging technologies cites the campaign frequently and draws attention to calls for new laws on autonomous weapons.

Mary has attended United Nations meetings on killer robots and witnessed what she describes as “the steady and growing groundswell of support for creating new international law to prohibit and restrict autonomous weapons systems”.

However, major military powers still see the need for such law as premature and continue to invest in artificial intelligence and emerging technologies, such as loitering munitions (suicide drones).

Mary, who returned to New Zealand earlier this year, says the urgency of regulation couldn’t be greater.

She is heartened to see the re-establishment of a Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control in New Zealand.

“This ministerial post is unique in the world, and I hope to see it leveraged to propel New Zealand into a leadership position when it comes to stopping killer robots.”

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