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Theme 2: Strengthen implementation of existing human rights, rather than redefine the frameworks

Wednesday 29 November – Friday 1 December 2023 WP3298

HUman rights and emerging technology image

The existing human rights framework, structures and mechanisms, in particular the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, now in its 75th year, should be promoted as the source of human rights obligations and responsibilities in the context of new technologies. Reopening consensus frameworks risks backsliding on existing commitments. New human rights are not required to effectively protect human rights in the technological age: existing human rights law can be interpreted in light of technological change. 

  1. The human rights framework provides an agreed upon and legally binding framework to guide the design, development and use of new and emerging tech.  The human rights system is a living system, and new challenges associated with emerging technologies can be read into or are covered by existing human rights law. For example, the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly, UN Treaty Bodies, UN Special Procedures, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have developed interpretive guidance on how existing international human rights apply in the context of new technologies such as AI. Activity in regional human rights bodies is also important to ensure that a regional perspective shapes human rights responses. For example, a 2021 resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, called for the development and use of AI, robotics and other new and emerging technologies to be compatible with regional frameworks and laws. 

“It is important to be creative in the levers used to tackle human rights problems.”

  1. Creating new rights would take many years and may result in backsliding. It is therefore more effective to focus efforts on practical efforts to implement and promote adherence to existing norms, rather than reopen fragile consensus at a time of geopolitical divisions. The human rights system requires investment and strengthening to ensure it can support the implementation of human rights in this context, and provide technical assistance – creating new processes or bodies risks undermining them. Aspects of the human rights system are under attack and require proactive support – both financial and political. The 75th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a platform for promoting human rights as central to the debate on emerging technologies.  
  2. At the same time, it is important to be creative in the levers used to tackle human rights problems. The human rights system moves more slowly than the pace of technological change – for example, cases can take many years to reach international human rights bodies. But the human rights toolkit is more than the formal legal system. It includes flexible and agile tools such as human rights impact assessments, policy toolkits, human rights by design approaches, among others. Human rights goals can also be achieved through non-specialist human rights bodies and approaches, and avoiding the language of human rights may in some instances be more appealing and effective to engage certain state and non-state actors. Bodies such as the OECD, G7, and G20 have a role to play.   

“The human rights toolkit is more than the formal legal system.”

  1. More attention to translating aspirational human rights goals into practical and actionable policy and technical action is also important. For example, human rights reports could benefit from accompanying practical toolkits targeted at companies. Further work is needed to consider which actors are best suited to develop technical advice and requirements for industry, and how to set expectations, and appropriate enforcement.
  2. Ex-ante and ex-poste approaches to addressing adverse human rights impacts should be encouraged. Some risks to human rights are foreseeable and should be addressed prior to the deployment of a new technology. Regular ex-poste assessments of the deployment of technologies allows for monitoring and evaluation of safeguards in relation to specific use-cases, enabling best practices to develop and unforeseen impacts to be addressed. 


  • Governments should increase coordination to enable a joined-up approach to promoting tech and human rights issues within multilateral organisations, and make most effective use of available resources. 
  • Governments should consistently champion the existing international human rights framework, and push back on attempts to weaken or undermine key pillars of the UN human rights system such as the UN Treaty Bodies, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and UN Special Procedures. 
  • Governments and the private sector should consider making funding, resources, and research facilities available to bolster the implementation of the UN Human Rights pillar, strengthening the capacity of key actors to have impact on issues relating to the intersection of tech and human rights.
    • This could include support for the establishment of a specialist human rights advisory mechanism, facilitated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), as proposed by the UN Secretary General.
  • Human rights bodies, and civil society organisations, and policy makers should work with the private sector and technical community to ensure policy recommendations are practically implementable and accessible, to enable more effective implementation. 
  • All stakeholders should consider available levers at domestic, regional, and international level to address human rights challenges in the context of new technologies, making effective use of both traditional human rights tools and more agile, creative approaches. Ex-poste and ex-ante approaches should be considered. 

Human Rights and New and Emerging Technology


Theme 3: A multistakeholder approach

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