CSOs Express Support for UN  General Assembly Consensus Resolution on Artificial Intelligence

H.E Mr. Dennis Francis, President, United Nations General Assembly

A group of Civil Society Organisations has expressed support for a United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution on Artificial Intelligence, adopted by consensus on March 21, 2024, which encourages UN Member States to promote safe, secure, and trustworthy AI systems for sustainable development.

The United States-led resolution called on Member States to refrain from or cease using AI systems that cannot operate in accordance with international human rights law or that pose excessive risks to human rights, particularly for vulnerable populations. It also reaffirms the principle that human rights enjoyed offline must be safeguarded online, including throughout the life cycle of AI systems.

In a joint statement signed by Access Now, Article 19, Association for Progressive Communications, Derechos Digitales, Digital Action, European Center for Not-For-Profit Law Stichting, Global Partners Digital, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, and Privacy International, the CSOs hailed the resolution as a crucial step in tackling the challenges posed by AI technologies. They noted that Stakeholders benefit when states clarify their position on new and emerging technologies and how international law, including international human rights law, and sustainable development commitments apply to fields like Artificial Intelligence despite prevalent misconceptions.

The group commended the resolution for its focus on trustworthy AI and consistent integration of human rights considerations throughout the text.

They said: “We were pleased to see that language regarding trustworthy artificial intelligence and human rights was referenced consistently throughout the text. The long list of technical, regulatory, and educational measures promoted offer a useful menu of options for states and companies as they clamor for ways to prevent harm across the lifecycle of artificial intelligence systems, ranging from design-stage risk and impact assessments to post-deployment feedback mechanisms. Moreover, the acknowledgment of the need to engage and enable participation of all communities, particularly from developing countries, should be further encouraged for practical implementation.”

While acknowledging the resolution’s emphasis on trustworthy AI and human rights, the group expressed reservations regarding its implementation and scope. They also expressed apprehension over the vague language concerning closing the digital divide and how the resolution differentiates between military and non-military/civil domains. They argued that stronger commitments and standards are necessary to ensure that AI governance reflects a true multistakeholder model and prioritizes inclusivity.

They noted that: “while the resolution is non-binding, and does not include an enforcement mechanism, it is nonetheless noteworthy for threading the needle forward by providing a unanimous adoption that states can use to work towards establishing global guardrails on artificial intelligence. We therefore call on all stakeholders, particularly states, to use this resolution in conjunction with other relevant resolutions, and UN initiatives, that particularly hone in on the human rights impact of artificial intelligence in upcoming discussions, especially negotiations regarding the UN GDC.”