At UN peer review, Haiti urged to ensure respect for human rights as it considers development of mining sector

CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT

At UN peer review, Haiti urged to ensure respect for human rights as it considers development of mining sector

In November 2016, the Global Justice Clinic and its Haitian partner, the Kolektif Jistis Min (KJM), attended Haiti’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Rights Council in Geneva, to urge states to address the human rights risks of mining in Haiti during the review. 

This effort followed on a joint submission to the UPR process, co-authored by GJC and KJM, published in March of this year. Following the submission of the joint analysis and an updated factsheet on mining in Haiti, summarizing key points from the report, Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile? Human Rights and Environmental Risks of gold Mining in Haiti, two countries participating in the UPR process made recommendations to Haiti related to mining and the rights to water, food and a healthy environment. 

GJC Issues Statement on the Constitutional and Human Rights Crisis in Haiti

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

GJC Issues Statement on the Constitutional and Human Rights Crisis in Haiti

The Global Justice Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School issued a statement on February 13, 2021 expressing grave concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Haiti. Credible evidence shows that President Jovenel Moïse has engaged in a pattern of conduct to create a Constitutional crisis and consolidate power that undermines the rule of law in the country. The three clinics call on the U.S. government to denounce recent acts by President Moïse that have escalated the constitutional crisis. They urge the U.S. to halt all deportation and expulsion flights to Haiti in this fragile time; to condemn recent violence against protestors and journalists; and to call for the release of those arbitrarily detained. With long experience working in solidarity with Haitian civil society, the clinics urge the U.S. government to recognize the right of the Haitian people to self-determination by neither insisting on nor supporting elections without evidence of concrete measures to ensure that they are free, fair, and inclusive.

The Clinics also sent a letter expressing similar concerns to the member states of the United Nations Security Council ahead of their meeting on February 22, 2021, which is expected to include a briefing on Haiti from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH).

February 14, 2021

This post reflects the statement of the Global Justice Clinic, and not necessarily the views of NYU, NYU Law, or the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.

Akapaman Tè An Ayiti Vyole Dwa Fanm Yo Epi Agrave Kriz Klimatik La, Deklare Òganizasyon K Ap Defann Dwa Yo

CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT

Akapaman Tè An Ayiti Vyole Dwa Fanm Yo Epi Agrave Kriz Klimatik La, Deklare Òganizasyon K Ap Defann Dwa Yo

Dokiman Global Justice Clinic nan NYU ak Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn depoze devan Rapòtè Espesyal Nasyonzini sou Vyolans Kont Fanm prezante konsekans dappiyanp sou tè ki fèt ak vyolans kont fanm nan Savane Diane

Español | English

Dappiyanp sou tè, avèk anpil vyolans ki lakoz deplasman fanm peyizan ki t ap travay latè nan Savane Diane se yon aksyon ki reprezante vyolans k ap fèt sou fanm epi ki agrave vilnerabilite klimatik la, se sa Global Justice Clinic ki nan Inivèsite New York ak Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA) te di Rapòtè Espesyal Nasyonzini sou Vyolans Kont Fanm nan yon dokiman yo te depoze nan biwo li semenn pase a. Dappiyanp sou tè nan Savane Diane, ki mete SOFA deyò sou tè li te konn itilize pou anseye fanm teknik agrikòl ekolojik epi dirab, se youn nan egzanp pami tout lòt zak dappiyanp sou tè ki te fèt pandan dènye mwa sa yo. Dappiyanp sou tè an Ayiti ap ogmante pandan sistèm jistis la li menm pa genyen kapasite pou pote repons.

“Nou mande Rapòtè Espesyal la pou li panche sou pwoblèm nan paske nou pa rive jwenn jistis an Ayiti,” se deklarasyon Sharma Aurelien, ki se Direktris Egzekitif SOFA. “Tè sa te kontribye nan ede fanm yo konbat povrete epi nan enterè tout sosyete a” daprè sa li fè konnen.

An 2020, nèg ak zam itilize gwo ponyèt ak vyolans epi fòse manm SOFA kite tè a.  Se tè gouvènman ayisyen an te bay yo dwa pou yo menm sèlman itilize li. Plizyè manm SOFA te resevwa anpil kou anba men yo.  SOFA te aprann genyen yon konpayi ki nan Agwo-endistri ki rele Stevia Agro Industries S.A., ki t aprevandike li genyen tit pwopriyete pou tèren an pou yo kiltive ‘stevia’ pou voye vann lòtbò. Gouvènman ayisyen an te anile dwa li te bay SOFA a pou itilize tè a, san okenn pwosedi jidisyè, epi nan kòmansman ane 2021 an, ansyen Prezidan Jovenel Moïse, ki te la alepòk, fè tè a tounen yon zòn franch agwo-endistriyèl atravè yon dekrè egzekitif.

“Minis Agrikilti a mete tèt li nan plas jij pou pran pozisyon pou Stevia Industries epi pèmèt li kontinye aktivite yo pandan SOFA te resevwa lòd pou li kanpe sou aktivite pa li yo,”daprè Marie Frantz Joachim, ki se manm kòdinasyon nasyonal SOFA.

Nan dokiman enstitisyon yo te depoze a, yo souliye jan dappiyanp sou tè a agrave vyolasyon dwa yo. Sa agrave povrete a ak ensekirite alimantè nan zòn nan, epi fanm k ap chèche travay pou Stevia Industries yo ap fè fas ak esplwatasyon seksyèl epi ak moun ki vòlè salè yo. Dappiyanp sou tè vyole tou dwa pou abitan yo jwenn dlo, nan yon kontèks kote kriz klimatik la ap vin pi mal: nan 8600 ekta tè yo sezi yo pou pwodiksyon stevia a, genyen twa (3) rezèv dlo leta pwoteje.

“Nou pèdi rezèv dlo nou yo paske yo vin [pou konpayi] a kounya. Pandan tan sa a, nou ap viv yon gwo kriz dlo,”se deklarasyon Esther Jolissaint, ki se yon manm SOFA ki afekte nan Savane Diane.

Chanjman klimatik, dappiyanp sou tè ak vyolans kont fanm se plizyè fenomèn ki makonnen youn ak lòt, daprè sa enstitisyon yo fè konnen. Yo toujou rekonèt Ayiti kòm youn nan senk (5) peyi ki pi afekte akoz kriz klimatik la. Dappiyanp sou tè se petèt alafwa rezilta vilnerabilite klimatik la ak ensifizans resous yo, menm jan tou dappiyanp sou tè a kapab agrave vilnerabilite klimatik la, paske tè agrikòl vin pi ra chak jou pi plis pandan y ap itilize yo pou fè monokilti oubyen pou lòt aktivite endistriyèl ki ap degrade anviwònman an. Fanm yo pi ekspoze nan sitiyasyon sa.

“Dwa pou fanm nan zòn riral yo jwenn tè ak resous agrikòl se yon bagay ki fondamantal pou garanti dwa yo genyen kòm moun, epi sipòte rezilyans klimatik la,” daprè Sienna Merope-Synge, ki se Ko-Direktris Inisyativ Jistis Klimatik nan Karayib la nan GJC. Yo dwe rekonèt dappiyanp sou tè ki fèt kont fanm kòm yon fòm vyolans kont fanm,” selon sa li kontinye pou li di.

Dokiman sa a ki depoze nan tèt kole ant enstitisyon yo, konsantre li sou apèl SOFA lanse pou genyen reparasyon ak restitisyon pou fanm ki afekte akoz dappiyanp tè sa. Li prezante tou apèl SOFA ak mouvman sosyal Ayisyen yo lanse pou genyen pi gwo pwoteksyon sou dwa pou peyizan genyen tè, nan moman kominote riral yo ap fè fas ak ogmantasyon ka dappiyanp sou tè k ap fèt nan peyi a. Kominote entènasyonal la dwe panche plis sou pwoblèm nan epi denonse li, daprè sa enstitisyon yo fè konnen. “Nou ap mande solidarite bò kote lòt moun ki angaje yo nan batay mondyal ki genyen pou garanti respè dwa moun,” daprè sa Aurelien fini pou li di.

Pòs sa a te pibliye kòm yon lage laprès sou 5 avril 2022.

Pòs sa a reflete deklarasyon Global Justice Clinic la epi li pa nesesèman opinyon NYU, NYU Law, oswa Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.

Acaparamiento De Tierras En Haití Viola Los Derechos De Las Mujeres Y Profundiza La Crisis Climática, Explican Grupos De Derechos

CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT

Acaparamiento De Tierras En Haití Viola Los Derechos De Las Mujeres Y Profundiza La Crisis Climática, Explican Grupos De Derechos

La sumisión de la Clínica de Justicia Global de NYU y Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn a la Relatora Especial de la ONU sobre la violencia contra la mujer subraya las consecuencias del acaparamiento violento de tierras contra las mujeres en Savane Diane, Haití 

English | Kreyòl

Un acaparamiento violenta de tierras desplazó a mujeres agricultoras en Savane Diane, Haití y constituyó violencia de género y ha agravado la vulnerabilidad a los cambios de clima, según la sumisión que la Clínica de Justicia Global de NYU y Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA) le presentaron a la Relatora Especial de la ONU sobre la violencia contra la mujer tarde la semana pasada. El acaparamiento de tierra en Savane Diane, el cual le quitó tierra usada por SOFA para educar a mujeres en técnicas agrícolas más ecológicamente sostenibles, es sólo uno de varios ejemplos de tal acaparamiento en los últimos meses. Acaparamientos de tierra están aumentando en Haití, mientras el poder judicial haitiano no ha respondido.

“Solicitamos la atención de la Relatora Especial porque no hemos podido garantizar la justicia en Haití,” dijo Sharma Aurelien, la directora ejecutiva de SOFA. “Esta tierra ayudó a las mujeres a combatir la pobreza y benefició a toda la sociedad,” ella continuó.

En 2020, hombres armados violentamente echaron a los miembros de SOFA de las tierras sobre cuales el gobierno haitiano les había otorgado derechos exclusivos de uso. En el proceso, golpearon brutalmente a algunos. Desde ese entonces, SOFA se ha enterado que la empresa agroindustrial, Stevia Agroindustrias S.A., estaba reclamando título del área para cultivar stevia para exportación. El gobierno haitiano revocó los derechos de SOFA a la tierra, sin ningún proceso judicial, y, en principios del 2021, el difunto presidente, Jovenel Moïse, convirtió la tierra en una zona franca agroindustrial por decreto ejecutivo.

“El Ministro de Agricultura asumió el papel de juez, apoyando a Industrias Stevia y permitiendo que continúen con sus actividades mientras que SOFA fue ordenada a suspender las nuestras,” dijo Marie Frantz Joachim, miembro del comité coordinadora.

La sumisión de las organizaciones enfatizó la violación de los derechos conjuntos ocasionada por la apropiación de la tierra. Esto está profundizando la pobreza e inseguridad alimenticia en la zona, y las mujeres que trabajan con las Industrias Stevia han sufrido explotación sexual y robo de salarios. El acaparamiento también vulnera el derecho al agua durante esta misma crisis climática: los terrenos incautados incluyen tres reservorios de agua protegidos por el Estado.

“Perdimos nuestras reservas de agua porque ya le pertenecen a [la compañía]. Mientras tanto, estamos sufriendo una gran crisis de agua,” dijo Esther Jolissaint, miembro de SOFA afectado en Savane Diane.

El cambio climático, el acaparamiento de tierras, y la violencia contra las mujeres son fenómenos interconectados, explican las organizaciones. Haití frecuentemente está listado como uno de los cinco países más afectados por el cambio climático. El acaparamiento de tierras puede resultar de la vulnerabilidad climática, y también puede contribuir a ella, ya que las tierras agrícolas, cada vez más escasas, se convierten en monocultivos agrícolas que degraden el medio ambiente. Las mujeres son particularmente vulnerables.

“Los derechos a la tierra de las mujeres rurales y el acceso a los recursos agrícolas son esenciales para garantizar sus derechos humanos y apoyar la resiliencia climática,” dijo Sienna Merope-Synge, la codirectora de la Iniciativa de Justicia Climática del Caribe de la Clínica de Justicia Global. “El acaparamiento de tierras contra las mujeres debería ser reconocido como una forma de violencia de género,” ella continuó.

La sumisión conjunta enfatiza el llamado de SOFA por reparaciones y restitución para las mujeres afectadas por el acaparamiento de tierras. También destaca el llamado de SOFA y movimientos sociales haitianos para una mayor protección de los derechos de los campesinos a la tierra, ya que las comunidades rurales en Haití han notado un aumento en el acaparamiento de sus tierras. Las organizaciones explican que se necesita más atención y condenación internacional. “Estamos pidiendo la solidaridad de otros comprometidos en la lucha mundial por el respeto de los derechos humanos,” concluyó Aurelien.

Este post fue publicado originalmente como un comunicado de prensa abril 5, 2022.

Este post refleja la declaración de la Global Justice Clinic, y no necesariamente las opiniones de NYU, NYU Law, o de el Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.

Communities in Haiti Renew their Protests Against Newmont Mining Concessions

CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT

Communities in Haiti Renew their Protests Against Newmont Mining Concessions

Today [April 26, 2023], Newmont—the largest gold mining company in the world—is holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM). This year, Newmont will be focused on pitching shareholders on its proposed acquisition of Australia’s Newcrest Mining Limited. On the other side of the world, Haitian organizations continue to protest its activities in the country’s Massif du Nord mountain range.

Newmont conducted exploration in Haiti between 2009 and 2013 under permits that covered swathes of the country’s North but has been unable to exploit its now-expired concessions due to political and legal obstacles. A revised Mining Law, drafted with World Bank assistance and presented to Parliament in 2017, has yet to pass due to Haiti’s ongoing political crisis. If and when it does pass, it is believed that industrial gold mining would commence. However, the gravity of the humanitarian situation in the country presents another significant hurdle for Newmont: recent reports suggest that gang violence, disease, and food insecurity continue to escalate. 

Since 2013, the Global Justice Clinic has worked in solidarity with social justice and community organizations in Haiti who oppose metal mining. In the small, densely populated country, where many depend on subsistence agriculture, the environmental and human rights impacts of Newmont’s proposed open-pit mines would be disastrous.

This April, communities in the North of Haiti marked Newmont’s AGM by renewing their opposition to the company’s presence on their land. Sixteen local organizations signed a declaration which reiterates their resistance to metal mining and denounces, in the strongest terms, the environmental harm and loss of livelihoods that Newmont’s proposed mine would entail. Their declaration calls on all the communities in the world suffering under the threat of mining operations to “bring our strength and energy together to defend our lives.”

To bring these concerns to the attention of investors, the Global Justice Clinic has published a brief setting out a business case against Newmont’s proposed mining operations in Haiti. In the view of the Clinic and its partners, the material, environmental, and human rights risks of metal mining in Haiti outweigh the value of any investment. Newmont should dissolve its Haitian subsidiaries and responsibly disengage from the country, including by cleaning up its encampments.

April 26, 2023.

Comments on Draft of the NIST Digital Identity Guidelines, Special Publication 800-63-4

TECHNOLOGY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Comments on Draft of the NIST Digital Identity Guidelines, Special Publication 800-63-4

In April 2023, the Digital Welfare State & Human Rights Project at the Center along with the Institute for Law, Innovation & Technology (iLIT) at Temple University, Beasley School of Law submitted comments to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in response to a consultation regarding their draft Digital Identity Guidelines.

In formulating these comments, we drew on examples from many other countries and contexts beyond the United States. After all, these Guidelines have the potential to shape the development not only of the digital ID systems that will be used by U.S. federal agencies, but also of digital ID systems around the world, given that NIST publications serve as a reference point and source of legitimization globally. Drawing on a global evidence base of the impacts of digital ID systems, our contribution to the consultation seeks to ensure that the Guidelines accurately identify and guard against some of the most acute risks of harm, particularly for those who are already experiencing marginalization and discrimination. We hope that our comments will provide actionable guidance to ensure that digital identity systems fulfill the central goal of advancing equity.

2024.

What I Should Have Said to Fernando Botero

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

What I Should Have Said to Fernando Botero

Your art is a provocation to viewers to ask: what is our role in safeguarding human rights? A reflection on meeting Colombian artist Fernando Botero. 

Image from Slideshow: The Botero Exhibit at Berkeley Law

I was privileged to have met world-famous Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, who died last month [September 2023] at age 91, when he visited the University of California, Berkeley in 2007. I teach human rights at the law school, and the artists came to campus for the exhibit of his 2005 Abu Ghraib series. The canvasses and sketches depict the horrors of Iraqi prisoner abuse by US soldiers, based on leaked photographs taken by service members at the Abu Ghraib prison facility. 

Overwhelmed by the paintings and awe-stuck by the artist who created them, I fumbled my few seconds with Mr. Botero. My memory is that I offered an anodyne appreciation of his work. If I could speak with him now, here is what I would say:

Mr. Botero, every day I enter the law school I try to keep in mind that the job of law professors is to train the next generation of lawyers to embody the highest values of the profession. It is true that we teach law students how to analyze the law, how to evaluate the strength of arguments, and how to weigh the equities in any given case. But law is not a set of rules that lawyers discover or inherit. Law is made through human intervention, in the form of legislation, interpretation by lawyers, as well as judicial decisions. You made vivid the power that legal professionals have to strengthen or to destroy the rule of law fabric that sustains humanity.

Your art is a provocation to viewers to ask: what is our role in safeguarding human rights?

Government lawyers drafted the rules of interrogating prisoners captured in the so-called War on Terror, setting the background norms for the torture of prisoners perpetrated  by guards and recorded on film as trophy shots. And lawyers created the rules for the treatment of so-called enemy combatants the United States held at Guantanamo Bay. I interviewed dozens of former detainees, men never charged with a crime, who endured years of mistreatment proscribed by US government lawyers in violation of international law. Government lawyers and politicians led the public to believe that harsh treatment, even torture, of suspected terrorists was necessary to keep us safe. Your art asks us to confront this bargain and to reconsider what we become as a nation, if we accept that premise, and you offer us a way forward.

You said at the time of the exhibit that your outrage that the United State, which has stood for democracy and rule of law, would commit such abuse motivated you to paint the series. Your Abu Ghraib collection conveys the suffering of Iraqi prisoners. Yet through your iconic style of voluminous forms, you also render the victims literally larger than life and give their bodies a weight that suggests a hyper-permanence. Their humanity outlives the outrages inflicted on them by US soldiers. Humanity will endure in spite of depredations, but whether ruptures in rule of law are mended by justice is up to us. And I think this is what you meant when you said about these works that: “Art is a permanent accusation.” 

Thanks to your permanent gift of the series to the university, I can view a few of the canvasses on display at our law school. Viewers must investigate the causes of US descent to systematic torture and the path to correct the injustice. The paintings accuse the audience of the dangers of believing that we must trade human rights for security; that it is acceptable to strip individuals of dignity simply by their being called a terrorist by a powerful state. The paintings accuse lawyers of their role in justifying rules that strip individuals of fundamental due process protections against arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and torture.

Today, we find ourselves in the midst of another shocking rollback of fundamental rights and inversion of the rule of law, this time closer to home. The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade ushers in an era in which forced pregnancy, a form of torture under international law, is legal in the United States. There is a dangerous throughline from Abu Ghraib to the Dobbs decision: when we dehumanize one category of persons and legalize control over their bodies through direct or indirect violence, we make it easier to apply the same logic to an ever-expanding menu of targets. 

It is more than two decades after 9/11 and we as a society have not yet answered your accusation, Mr. Botero, to our detriment. Yet progressive lawyers and students continue to name torture and fight injustice when it is unpopular to do so. Justice remains a work in progress, which is why we need compelling art, like yours, to continue to challenge us to action.

October 4, 2023. Laurel E. Fletcher, Visiting Scholar (Fall 2023).
Laurel E. Fletcher is Chancellor’s Clinical Professor of Law at UC Berkeley, School of Law where she co-directs the International Human Rights Law Clinic and the Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law.

This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of NYU, NYU Law or the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. 

Contesting the Foundations of Digital Public Infrastructure

TECHNOLOGY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Contesting the Foundations of Digital Public Infrastructure

What Digital ID Litigation Can Tell Us About the Future of Digital Government and Society

Many governments and international organizations have embraced the transformative potential of ‘digital public infrastructure’—a concept that refers to large-scale digital platforms run by or supported by governments, such as digital ID, digital payments, or data exchange platforms. However, many of these platforms remain heavily contested, and recent legal challenges in several countries have vividly demonstrated some of the risks and limitations of existing approaches.

In this short explainer, we discuss four case studies from Uganda, Mexico, Kenya, and Serbia, in which civil society organizations have brought legal challenges to contest initiatives to build digital public infrastructure. What connects the experiences in these countries is that efforts to introduce new national-scale digital platforms have had harmful impacts on the human rights of marginalized groups—impacts that, the litigants argue, were disregarded as governments rolled out these digital infrastructures, and which are wholly disproportionate to the purported benefits that these digital systems are supposed to bring.

These four examples therefore hold important lessons for policymakers, highlighting the urgent need for effective safeguards, mitigations, and remedies as the development and implementation of digital public infrastructure continues to accelerate.

The explainer document builds upon discussions we had during an event we hosted, entitled “Contesting the Foundations of Digital Public Infrastructure: What Digital ID Litigation Can Tell Us About the Future of Digital Government and Society,” where we brought together the civil society actors who have been litigating these four different cases.

August 28, 2023. Katelyn Cioffi, Victoria Adelmant, Danilo Ćurčić, Brian Kiira, Grecia Macías, and Yasah Musa

New Casebook—International Human Rights by P. Alston available in an Open Access Publication

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

New Casebook—International Human Rights by P. Alston available in an Open Access Publication

Philip Alston’s International Human Rights textbook is now available free of charge in a comprehensively revised edition and on an Open Access basis starting July 8, 2024.

This book examines the world of contemporary human rights, including legal norms, political contexts and moral ideals. It acknowledges the regime’s strengths and weaknesses, and focuses on today’s principal challenges. These include the struggles against resurgent racism and anti-gender ideology, the implications of new technologies for fact-finding and many other parts of the regime, the continuing marginality of economic, social and cultural rights, radical inequality, climate change, and the evermore central role of the private sector.

The boundaries of the subject have steadily expanded as the post-World War II regime has become an indelible part of the legal, political and moral landscape. Given the breadth and complexity of the regime, the book takes an interdisciplinary and critical approach.

imaginative and stimulating materials with thought-provoking commentary… a wonderful teaching tool, as well as a valuable starting point for research.

Judge Hilary Charlesworth, Judge of the International Court of Justice.

Features include:

  • A focus on current issues such as new technologies, climate change, counter-terrorism, reparations, sanctions, and universal jurisdiction;
  • Expanded focus on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and other forms of discrimination and the backlash against efforts to combat them;
  • Introductory chapters that provide the necessary overview of international law;
  • An interdisciplinary approach that puts human rights issues into their broader political, economic, and cultural contexts;
  • Diverse and critical perspectives dealt with throughout;
  • Sections dealing with political economy of human rights and the challenge of growing inequality;
  • Issues of international humanitarian law are widely reflected; and
  • Focus on current situations in Ukraine, Gaza, Myanmar, Venezuela, and others

Major themes that run through the book include the colonial and imperial objectives often pursued in the name of human rights, evolving notions of autonomy and sovereignty, the changing configuration of the public-private divide in human rights ordering, the escalating tensions between international human rights and national security, and the striking evolution of ideas about the nature and purposes of the regime itself.

This book is a successor to previous volumes entitled International Human Rights in Context (1996, 2000 and 2008, all co-authored with Henry Steiner and in 2008 also with Ryan Goodman) and International Human Rights: Text and Materials (2013, co-authored with Ryan Goodman). “All four volumes were published by Oxford University Press, and I am grateful to them for reverting all rights to the author in order to enable this Open Access publication” says Alston. 

The 2024 comprehensively revised edition will be available free of charge and can be downloaded in either a single pdf file for the entire book or separate files for each of the eighteen chapters.

Co-creating a Shared Human Rights Agenda for AI Regulation and the Digital Welfare State

TECHNOLOGY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Co-creating a Shared Human Rights Agenda for AI Regulation and the Digital Welfare State

On September 26, 2023, the Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law and Amnesty Tech’s Algorithmic Accountability Lab (AAL) brought together 50 participants from civil society organizations across the globe to discuss the use and regulation of artificial intelligence in the public sector, within a collaborative online strategy session entitled ‘Co-Creating a Shared Human Rights Agenda for AI and the Digital Welfare State.’ Participants spanned diverse geographies and contexts—from Nigeria to Chile, and from Pakistan to Brazil—and included organizations working across a broad spectrum of human rights issues such as privacy, social security, education, and health. Through a series of lightning talks and breakout room discussions, the session surfaced shared concerns regarding the use of AI in public sector contexts, key gaps in existing discussions surrounding AI regulation, and potential joint advocacy opportunities.

Global discussions on the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) have, in many contexts, thus far been preoccupied with whether to place meaningful constraints on the development, sale, and use of AI by private technology companies. Less attention has been paid to the need to place similar constraints on governments’ use of AI. But governments’ enthusiastic adoption of AI across public sector programs and critical public services has been accelerating apace around the world. AI-based systems are consistently tested in spheres where some of the most marginalized and low-income groups are unable to opt out – for instance, machine learning and other technologies are used to detect welfare benefit fraud, to assess vulnerability and determine eligibility for social benefits like housing, and to monitor people on the move. All too often, however, this technological experimentation results in discrimination, restriction of access to key services, privacy violations, and many other human rights harms. As governments eagerly build “digital welfare states,” incorporating AI into critical public services, the scale and severity of potential implications demands that meaningful constraints be placed on these developments. 

In the past few years, a wide array of regulatory and policy initiatives aimed at regulating the development and use of AI have been introduced – in Brazil, China, Canada, the EU, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, among many other countries and policy fora. However, what is emerging from these initiatives is an uneven patchwork of approaches to AI regulation, with concerning gaps and omissions when it comes to public sector applications of AI. Some of the world’s largest economies – where many powerful technology companies are based – are embarking on new regulatory initiatives with impacts far beyond their territorial confines, while many of the groups likely to be most affected have not been given sufficient opportunities to participate in these processes.

Despite these shortcomings, ongoing efforts to craft regulatory regimes do offer a crucial and urgent entry point for civil society organizations to seek to highlight critical gaps, to foster greater participation, and to contribute to shaping future deployments of AI in these important sectors.

In hosting this collaborative event on AI regulation and the digital welfare state, the AAL and the Center sought to build an inclusive space for civil society groups from across regions and sectors to forge new connections, share lessons, and collectively strategize. We sought to expand mobilization and build solidarity by convening individuals from dozens of countries, who work across a wide range of fields – including “digital rights” organizations, but also bringing in human rights and social justice groups who have not previously worked on issues relating to new technologies. Our aim was to brainstorm how actors across the human rights ecosystem can, in practice, help to elevate more voices into ongoing discussions about AI regulation.

Key issues for AI regulation in the digital welfare state

In breakout sessions, participants emphasized the urgent need to address serious harms that are already resulting from governments’ AI uses, particularly in contexts such as border control, policing, the judicial system, healthcare, and social protection. The public narrative – and accelerated impetus for regulation – has been dominated by discussion of existential threats AI may pose in the future, rather than the severe and widespread threats that are already seen in almost every area of public services. In Serbia, the roll-out of Social Cards in the welfare system has excluded thousands of the most marginalized from accessing their social protection entitlements; in Brazil, the deployment of facial recognition in public schools has subjected young children to discriminatory biases and serious privacy risks. Deployments of AI across public services are consistently entrenching inequalities and exacerbating intersecting discrimination – and participants noted that governments’ increasing interest in generative AI, which has the potential to encode harmful racial bias and stereotypes, will likely only intensify these risks.

Participants also noted that it is likely that AI will continue to impact groups that may defy traditional categorizations – including, for instance, those who speak minority languages. Indeed, a key theme across discussions was the insufficient attention paid in regulatory debates to AI’s impacts on culture and language. Given that systems are generally trained only in dominant languages, breakout discussions surfaced concerns about the potential erasure of traditional languages and loss of cultural nuance.

As advocates work not only to remedy some of these existing harms, but also to anticipate the impacts of the next iterations of AI, many expressed concern about the dominant role that the private sector plays in governments’ roll-outs of AI systems, as well as in discussions surrounding regulation. Where tech companies – who are often protected by powerful lobby groups, commercial confidentiality, and intellectual property regimes – are selling combinations of software, hardware, and technical guidance to governments, this can pose significant transparency challenges. It can be difficult for civil society organizations and affected individuals to understand who is providing these systems, as well as to understand how decisions are made. In the welfare context, for example, beneficiaries are often unaware of whether and how AI systems are making highly consequential decisions about their entitlements. Participants noted that human rights actors need the capacity and resources to move beyond traditional human rights work, to engage with processes such as procurement, standard-setting, and auditing, and to address issues related to intellectual property regimes and proliferating public-private partnerships underlying governments’ uses of AI.

These issues are compounded by the fact that, in many instances, AI-based systems are designed and built in countries such as the US and then marketed and sold to governments around the world for use across critical public services. Often, these systems are not designed with sensitivity to local contexts, cultures, and languages, nor with cognizance of how the technology will interface with the political, social, and economic landscape where it is deployed. In addition, civil society organizations face additional barriers when seeking transparency and access to information from foreign companies. As AI regulation efforts advance, a failure to consider potential extraterritorial harms will leave a significant accountability gap and risk deepening global inequalities. Many participants therefore noted both the importance of ensuring that regulation in countries where tech companies are based includes diverse voices and addresses extraterritorial impacts, but also to ensure that Global North models of regulation, which may not be fit for purpose, are not automatically “exported.”

A way forward

The event ended with a strategizing session that revealed the diverse strengths of the human rights movement and multiple areas for future work. Several specific and urgent calls to action emerged from these discussions.

First, given the disproportionate impacts of governments’ AI deployments on marginalized communities, a key theme was the need for broader participation in discussions on emerging AI regulation. This includes specially protected groups such as indigenous peoples, minoritized ethnic and racial groups, immigrant communities, people with disabilities, women’s rights activists, children, and LGBTQ+ groups, to name just a few. Without learning from and elevating the perspectives and experiences of these groups, regulatory initiatives will fail to address the full scope of the realities of AI. We must therefore develop participatory methodologies that bring the voices of communities into key policy spaces. More routes to meaningful consultation would lead to greater power and autonomy for previously marginalized voices to shape a more human rights-centric agenda for AI regulation. 

Second, the unique impacts that public sector use of AI can have on human rights, especially for marginalized groups, demands a comprehensive approach to AI regulation that takes careful account of specific sectors. Regulatory regimes that fail to include meaningful sector-specific safeguards for areas such as health, education, and social security will fail to address the full range of AI related harms. Participants noted that existing tools and mechanisms can provide a starting point – such as consultation and testing requirements, specific prohibitions on certain kinds of systems, requirements surrounding proportionality, mandatory human rights impact assessments, transparency requirements, periodic evaluations, and supervision mechanisms.

Finally, there was a shared desire to build stronger solidarity across a wider range of actors, and a call to action for more effective collaborations. Participants from around the world were keen to share resources, partner on specific advocacy goals, and exchange lessons learned. Since participants focus on many diverse issues, and adopt different approaches to achieve better human rights outcomes, collaboration will allow us to draw on a much deeper pool of collective knowledge, methodologies, and networks. It will be especially critical to bridge silos between those who identify more as “digital rights” organizations and groups working on issues such as healthcare, or migrants’ rights, or on the rights of people with disabilities. Elevating the work of grassroots groups, and improving diversity and representation among those empowered to enter spaces where key decisions around AI regulation are made, should also be central in movement-building. 

There is also an urgent need for more exchange not only across the human rights ecosystem, but also with actors from other disciplines who bring different forms of technical expertise, such as engineers and public interest technologists. Given the barriers to entry to regulatory spaces – including the resources, long-term commitment, and technical vocabularies imposed – effective coalition-building and information sharing could help to lessen these burdens.

While this event brought together a fantastic and energetic group of advocates from dozens of countries, these takeaways reflect the views of only a small subset of the relevant stakeholders in these debates. We ended the session hopeful, but with the recognition that there is a great deal more work needed to allow for the full participation of affected communities from around the world. Moving forward, we aim to continue to create spaces for varied groups to self-organize, continue the dialogue, and share information. We will help foster collaborations and concretely support organizations in building new partnerships across sectors and geographies, and hope to continue to co-create a shared human rights agenda for AI regulation for the digital welfare state.

As we continue this work and seek to support efforts and build collaborations, we would love to hear from you – please get in touch if you are interested in joining these efforts.

November 14, 2023. Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project at NYU Law Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and Amnesty Tech’s Algorithmic Accountability Lab.