Category Archives: European System

Council of Europe Adopts Declaration on Artificial Intelligence and Personal Autonomy

In a new declaration on the impact of the use of algorithms on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers warns that artificial intelligence and other machine-learning technologies must not be used to unduly influence or manipulate individuals’ thoughts and behavior. See Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, Decl(13/02/2019)1, 13 February 2019. The first of its kind, the declaration calls on States to take steps to ensure that technologies facilitating algorithmic persuasion, particularly those that “micro-target” individuals, do not interfere with people’s ability to enjoy their human rights and to make independent political, personal, and purchasing decisions. See id. at paras. 8, 9. The Declaration, which builds on ongoing study and analysis by Council of Europe organs, adds to the growing body of guidance and recommendations concerning the regulation of machine learning to safeguard human rights, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression.

The Declaration

At the heart of the Declaration is the concern that technology that seeks to shape our preferences and alter information flows is becoming an “ever growing presence in our daily lives,” and the finding that digital forms of targeted persuasion pose a threat to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. See Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, at paras. 4, 9. Specifically, the Committee of Ministers states that the use of “fine grained, sub-conscious and personalized levels of algorithmic persuasion” risks significantly interfering with the principles of individual autonomy and the right to form opinions and take independent decisions. See id. at para. 9. Undermining the autonomy and independence of individuals, according to the Committee, threatens the fundamental belief “in the equality and dignity of all humans as independent moral agents.” See id. at paras. 9.

The Committee of Ministers recognizes that digital services have become an essential tool for modern communication, including political communication, and that advanced technologies provide the opportunity to enhance human rights. See id. at paras. 2-3. However, the Committee also notes that public awareness “remains limited regarding the extent to which everyday devices collect and generate vast amounts of data” that “are used to train machine-learning technologies. . . to predict and shape personal preferences, to alter information flows, and, sometimes, to subject individuals to behavioral experimentation.” See id. at para. 4. Additionally, the Committee warns that the ability to infer “intimate and detailed information” from the data collected “supports the sorting of individuals into categories,” which allows companies to reinforce discrimination along cultural, religious, legal, and economic lines. See id. at para. 6.

The Committee of Ministers concludes that machine-learning technologies, when coupled with mass collection of data, pose a danger for democratic societies if these technologies are used—by either public or private entities—to “manipulate and control not only economic choices but also social and political behaviours.” See id. at para. 8. Moreover, the Committee notes that machine-learning tools are demonstrating an increasing ability to “not only to predict choices but also influence emotions and thoughts and alter an anticipated course of action, sometimes subliminally.” See id. at para. 8. The Committee emphasizes that the 47 Member States to the Council of Europe have an obligation to protect democracy, human rights, and the rule of law during the rapid social transformation that is occurring as the result of recent advances in technology. See id. at para. 1.

Recommendations

The Declaration makes five specific recommendations about how States should address the risks to democracy and human rights posed by machine learning. The first is that States should pay attention to the inter-disciplinary nature of this concern and ensure that the above concerns do not fall between the mandates of current administrative agencies. See id. at para. 9(a). Second, States should consider enacting laws that regulate the collection and use of personal data that go beyond preexisting privacy protections. See id. at para. 9(b). In addition, States should specifically legislate against forms of “illegitimate interference,” which would include forms of persuasion and interference that compromise democratic principles. See id. at para. 9(d). Lastly, the Committee asserts that States should both promote a public debate on the issue of what counts as permissible persuasion and empower users of digital technologies by promoting digital literacy, including awareness of data collection. See id. at para. 9(c) and 9(e).

Recent Developments under Human Rights Law Concerning AI

International human rights experts and civil society have sought to address the human rights impact of machine-learning and algorithmic decision-making. [OHCHR; UNDP; AccessNow; Data&Society] Most recently, in a 2018 report to the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression released the first such report examining the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic decision-making on the information environment; a response to these technologies “are now a critical part of the information environment – they are found in every corner of the internet, on digital devices and in technical systems, in search engines, social media platforms, messaging applications, and public information mechanisms.” [OHCHR]

Importantly, the Special Rapporteur’s report proposes a human rights framework for the design and use of these technologies by States and private actors. [OHCHR] Drawing primarily on the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, privacy, non-discrimination, and an effective remedy, the Special Rapporteur finds that States should ensure that human rights are at the core of private sector design of these technologies. See id. at paras. 60-63. This requires that States update and enforce data protection regulations with respect to machine-learning technologies. See id. at para. 63. Moreover, States should enact policies that create a diverse and pluralistic information environment, which may include the regulation of technology monopolies in the area of artificial intelligence. See id. at para. 64.

With respect to the responsibility of private companies, the Special Rapporteur found that companies should create and apply guidelines for the deployment of artificial intelligence that are grounded in human rights principles and informed by civil society. See id. at para. 65. Additionally, companies should be transparent and open for audit concerning the use of artificial intelligence on their platforms and services. See id. at paras. 66, 69. Companies should also prevent discrimination by the teams designing their artificial intelligence systems and discrimination in the actual system design, which may include monitoring outcomes that may be discriminatory, removing discriminatory data, and implementing measures that compensate for discriminatory data. See id. at para. 67.

Additional Information

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, is an intergovernmental organization with 47 Member States. The Committee of Ministers, a decision-making body charged with monitoring the implementation of several human rights treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights, is composed of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Member States. Additionally, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Committee of Social Rights, and the Commissioner for Human Rights all operate under the auspices of the Council of Europe.

For more information about the European Human Rights System or the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room or subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

ECtHR’s Second Inter-State Reparations Judgment Orders Russia Compensate Expelled Georgians

Courtroom of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Credit: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued its second ever monetary judgment in an inter-State case, ordering Russia to pay the Georgian government 10 million euros as reparations for Russia’s collective expulsion of thousands of Georgian nationals between 2006 and 2007. See ECtHR, Georgia v. Russia (I) [GC], no. 13255/07, ECHR 2019, Judgment of 31 January 2019 (Just Satisfaction). The judgment on reparations follows the Court’s 2014 judgment on the merits of the case, in which it found that Russia’s mass expulsion of Georgians violated the European Convention on Human Rights. See id. at para. 2. If Russia complies with the judgment, Georgia will be responsible for distributing the 10 million euros to a group of 1,500 identified victims, awarding 2,000 euros to each person who was expelled and awarding an additional 10,000 to 15,000 euros to those who had also been detained and ill-treated. See id. at paras. 77, 79. This judgment applies and builds on the Grand Chamber’s 2014 just satisfaction judgment in Cyprus v. Turkey, in which it ordered Turkey to pay 90 million euros in just satisfaction for the enforced disappearance of 1,456 people and various violations against the Greek Cypriots of the Karpas peninsula, by Turkish authorities, dating to 1974. See ECtHR, Cyprus v. Turkey, [GC], no. 25781/94, Judgment of 12 May 2014 (Just Satisfaction).

This case is the first of four cases that Georgia has brought to the ECtHR against Russia since 2007. The second case, concerning Russia’s alleged violation of the European Convention during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict, is currently pending before a Grand Chamber. See ECtHR, Cases pending before the Grand Chamber. The third case, which concerned Russia’s detention of several Georgian nationals, was voluntarily dropped by Georgia after Russia released the individuals from detention. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The fourth case, filed in August 2018, concerns alleged violations of rights along the border between Georgian-controlled territory and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict. See ICC, Situation in Georgia.

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January 2019: United Nations and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palace of Nations
Credit: Ludovic Courtès via Wikimedia Commons

In January, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. One United Nations treaty body will hold a session to review States’ progress regarding children’s rights. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Two UN special procedures will conduct country visits in January, and the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women will hold a private session. Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be holding public sessions.

The UN treaty body and UPR sessions may be watched via UN Web TV, and the public hearings of the IACtHR may be watched via the IACtHR’s website or Vimeo page. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies

One of the 10 UN human rights treaty bodies, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, will meet this month to review certain States parties’ implementation of their treaty obligations. Through the State reporting procedure, treaty bodies review States’ reports and responses to a specific list of issues, receive additional information from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions (NHRIs), engage in an interactive dialogue with each State’s representatives, and then adopt concluding observations detailing the progress and remaining challenges in the State’s implementation of the treaty.

Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) will hold its 80th Session in Geneva, Switzerland from January 14 to February 1, 2019. According to its programme of work, the CRC will consider the State reports of Bahrain, Belgium, Guinea, Italy, Japan, and Syria to assess their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CRC will also consider the State report of the Czech Republic for its compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Civil society members looking to attend the CRC’s session must register through the Indico system before February 1, 2019. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CRC’s 80th Session webpage. For more information on the CRC, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review Working Group

The Human Rights Council’s UPR Working Group will hold its 32nd Session from January 21 to February 1, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. According to its tentative timetable, the Working Group will hold interactive dialogues with New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Vietnam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, and Cambodia regarding their obligations under UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights instruments to which the State is party, the State’s voluntary pledges and commitments, and applicable international humanitarian law.

During the session, a group of three Human Rights Council Member States (or troika) will facilitate the review of each country. Representatives from the country being reviewed will give an oral presentation, which is followed by an interactive dialogue with UN Member States. The States make recommendations and comments, which the troika summarizes in a report, and the reviewed country can accept or reject the recommendations and comments. A final outcome report will then be adopted, and the country will report on its implementation of the recommendations during the following UPR cycle.

NGOs and NHRIs wishing to submit written information for the report must follow the OHCHR technical guidelines for stakeholders submissions for the 3rd cycle. For more information about past, present, and future UPR sessions, including timetables and lists of troikas, visit the UPR sessions webpage or visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Special Procedures

In January, two special procedures will carry out country visits and one special procedure will hold a private session in New York.

The Special Rapporteur on minority issues is scheduled to visit Spain from January 14 to January 25, 2019.

The Working Group on arbitrary detention is scheduled to visit Bhutan from January 14 to January 25, 2019.

The Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice will hold its 24th Session from January 28 to February 1, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During their country visits, these special procedures mandate holders will assess the human rights situation as it relates to their thematic focus. Experts also meet with civil society, government, and national human rights institutions when they visit a country. Their findings are published later in reports addressed to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. See OHCHR, Country and other visits of Special Procedures. To view a list of forthcoming country visits, visit the OHCHR website. For more information on each special procedure, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Regional Bodies

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold its 129th Regular Session from January 28 to February 8, 2019 in San José, Costa Rica. During its sessions, the IACtHR typically holds public hearings on the merits of individual complaints and deliberates on contentious cases alleging human rights violations. For more information about the IACtHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

European Committee of Social Rights

The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) of the Council of Europe will hold its 304th Session from January 21 to January 24, 2019 in Strasbourg, France. The agenda and the synopsis for this session will be published on the ECSR’s calendar at a later date. During its sessions, the ECSR reviews States’ reports on their implementation of the European Social Charter, considers collective complaints alleging violations of the Charter, and follows up on the Turin process to improve implementation of the Charter at the continental level. According to the ECSR’s calendar for national reporting, the ECSR will consider State reports concerning the rights of children, the family, and migrants from France, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Finland throughout the 2019 calendar year. The ECSR will consider simplified reports on the same topic from the Netherlands, Sweden, Croatia, Norway, Slovenia, Cyprus, and the Czech Republic throughout the 2019 calendar year. Simplified reports focus on areas of non-conformity identified in the Committee’s previous conclusions. For more information on the European Committee of Social Rights, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

December 2018: United Nations and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights session banner
African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights session banner

Credit: African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (via Flickr)

In December, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Two United Nations treaty bodies will continue reviewing States’ progress, with regard to the elimination of torture and racial discrimination, in sessions that began last month. Four UN special procedures will conduct country visits in December, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.

Regionally, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be holding public sessions.

The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the IACHR, and the AfCHPR’s public hearings may be watched via UN Web TV, the IACHR’s website or Vimeo page, and the African Court’s YouTube channel, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more

UN Human Rights Committee Condemns “Burqa Ban,” Countering European Court

Human Rights Committee
Human Rights Committee

Human Rights Committee Chairperson Yuval Shany at the 123rd Session
Credit: UN Web TV

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has concluded that France’s ban on face coverings in public violates the rights of women who wear full-face veils for religious reasons, a conclusion directly at odds with a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment from 2014. Compare Human Rights Committee, Hebbadj v. France, Communication No. 2807/2016, Views of 17 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2807/2016 and Human Rights Committee, Yaker v. France, Communication No. 2747/2016, Views of 17 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2807/2016 with ECtHR, S.A.S. v. France [GC], no. 43835/11, ECHR 2014, Judgment of 1 July 2014. The Committee’s views, published on October 17, 2018, concluded that two women’s criminal convictions under the 2010 ban violated their rights to freedom of religion and to non-discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The Human Rights Committee rejected France’s argument, which had been accepted by the ECtHR, that the ban was proportionate to, and the least restrictive means of achieving, the State interest in promoting the conditions for “living together” in a democratic society. In response to IJRC’s questions, the Human Rights Committee Chairperson, Yuval Shany, also noted that the Committee does not apply the ECtHR’s unique “margin of appreciation” doctrine, which gives European States latitude in balancing individual rights against State interests, particularly in areas where there is little consensus among States on a specific social issue. Read more

November 2018: United Nations and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council Tenth Session Participants
Credit: UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot

In November, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet to review States’ progress with regard to civil and political rights, women’s rights, enforced disappearances, torture, and racial discrimination. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Eleven UN special procedures will conduct country visits this month, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.

Regionally, the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children (ACERWC), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be holding public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in three cases.

The UN treaty body sessions, the AfCHPR’s public hearings, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the African Court’s YouTube channel, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ website or Vimeo page, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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