Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) is the leading UN entity on human rights. We represent the world’s commitment to the promotion and protection of the full range of human rights and freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Description of Activities on AI

Project 1: Expert seminar on artificial intelligence and the right to privacy

Human Rights Council resolution 42/15 requested UN Human Rights to organize a one-day expert seminar to discuss how artificial intelligence, including profiling, automated decision-making and machine-learning technologies may, without proper safeguards, affect the enjoyment of the right to privacy. The seminar took place as a public online event over two half-days on 27/28 May 2020. One important area of discussion were the specific challenges for the right to privacy that the rapidly increasing use of AI brings about. The seminar also highlighted the key role that privacy plays in safeguarding other human rights affected by AI. It also articulated safeguards and processes that States, businesses and international organisations are required to put in place to promote and protect the right to privacy in the digital age.

Project 2: Report on peaceful protests and new technologies

In its resolution 38/11, the Human Rights Council requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a thematic report on new technologies, including information and communications technology (ICT), and their impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests. The report, presented at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council highlights not only the character of new digital technologies as enablers of the enjoyment of human rights but also delves into issues linked to various surveillance technologies, including AI-based surveillance (such as facial recognition) of organizers of and participants in peaceful assemblies. Among other recommendations, it calls for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition in the context of peaceful assemblies.

Project 3: B-Tech Project

UN Human Rights has launched the B-Tech Project which develops authoritative guidance and resources to enhance the quality of implementation of the United National Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights with respect to a selected number of strategic focus areas in the technology space. It focuses on the following thematic areas, all of which touch upon important aspects of the development, deployment and use of AI: (1) Addressing Human Rights Risks in Business Models; (2) Human Rights Due Diligence and End-Use; (3) Accountability and Remedy; and (4) A Smart Mix of Measures: Exploring regulatory and policy responses to human rights challenges linked to digital technologies.

Project 4: Development of UN system-wide guidance on human rights diligence in the context of developing, deploying and using new technologies

In his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the Secretary-General asked UN Human Rights to develop UN system-wide guidance on human rights diligence in the context of developing, deploying and using new technologies (A/74/821).

Project 5: Co-lead of implementation of the data protection pillar of the UN Data Strategy

In June 2016, the Secretary-General presented the UN Data Strategy for Action by Everyone, Everywhere. Data Protection and Privacy is one of the priority areas in the strategy. OLA, EOSG and UN Human Rights are the co-leads of the implementation of this priority area).

Project 6: Universal Human Rights Index

The Universal Human Rights Index (UHRI) is designed to facilitate access to human rights recommendations issued by three key pillars of the United Nations human rights protection system: the Treaty Bodies established under the international human rights treaties as well as the Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council. Many of these outputs have been manually tagged for eight years. We have used this training dataset to build a natural language classifier, using a neural network, to create recommendations for how outputs should be classified.

Project 7: Digital Image Verification and Classification Project

In the past, human rights investigations faced challenges in gathering sufficient data, but with the advent of portable consumer technologies the challenge has evolved. The amount of data is not such a pressing issue, but filtering information to create useful evidence is a challenge. The recent experience of the Commission of Enquiry on the protests in Gaza or the current experience of the Commission of Enquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic are instructive. Both initiatives have received huge quantities of video and image data from networks of informants, a big challenge to authenticate, classify and analyse into useful evidence. This project works to address this need by further developing existing open source tools, available to the human rights ecosystem, and creating an internal instance for conducting the same analysis on confidential information.

Human Rights Council, Advisory Committee

Project: Report of the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council on New and Emerging Digital Technologies and Human Rights

Pursuant to the adoption by the Human Rights Council resolution “New and emerging digital technologies and human rights” (A/HRC/RES/41/11) at the forty-first session, the Advisory Committee is mandated to prepare a report on the impacts, opportunities, and challenges of new technologies with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights, including mapping of relevant existing initiatives by the United Nations (UN) and recommendations on how human rights opportunities, challenges, and gaps arising from new technologies could be addressed by the Human Rights Council and its special procedures and subsidiary bodies in a holistic, balanced, and pragmatic manner and to present the report to the Council at its forty-seventh session (June 2021). The report will address a range of issues linked to the use of AI.

Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council

Project: Human Rights Council report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on Racial discrimination and emerging digital technologies: a human rights analysis (A/HRC/44/57)

The Special Rapporteur analyses different forms of racial discrimination in the design and use of emerging digital technologies, such as AI, and focuses in particular on the structural and institutional dimensions of this discrimination. She also outlines the human rights obligations of States and the responsibility of corporations to combat this discrimination.

Human Rights Committee

Project: General comment No. 37, Article 21: Right of peaceful assembly

The General Comment No. 37 on the right of peaceful assembly was adopted on 23 July 2020 during the 129th online session of the Human Rights Committee. The General Comment addresses extensively question linked to the use of digital technologies, including AI-based tools, both by organizers of and participants in assemblies and state authorities.

Committee on the Rights of the Child

Project: Committee on the Rights of the Child – Drafting of a General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is currently drafting a general comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. This comment also touches upon issues relating to AI.

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Project: CERD – drafting of a General recommendation No. 36 on Preventing and Combating Racial Profiling

During its 98th session, from 23 April to 10 May 2019, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination initiated the drafting process of general recommendation n° 36 on preventing and combatting racial profiling. Algorithmic profiling is one of the topics that are being considered by the Committee.

Related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

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