UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk Engages Student Roundtable and Delivers Keynote Remarks on Human Rights and Generative AI

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk addressing a group of Human Right students.

The Center for Human Rights and International Justice welcomed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on February 14 to deliver keynote remarks reflecting on the role of human rights frameworks in guiding tech companies, governments, and individuals through the age of generative AI.  Prior to this talk, High Commissioner Türk joined about 30 students from the human rights community in a roundtable session at the Center. Students had the opportunity to pose questions on various human rights concerns to the High Commissioner, covering topics such as how to strengthen human rights institutions, ongoing conflicts in Southeast Asia and East Africa, the intersection of climate change and human rights.

In his keynote speech for the panel event, “The Human Rights Dimensions of Generative AI: Guiding the Way Forward,” Türk posited the importance of learning to master AI and human rights in tandem with one another. That is, human rights principles and frameworks are necessary at each stage of generative AI’s life cycle, whether it be design, development, or deployment. From the usage of AI to amplify hate against minorities to the role of AI-generated disinformation in sowing distrust in media and democratic institutions, Türk spoke to the current and future harms of generative AI against human rights. But he also underscored human rights as part of the solution. As framed by Türk, human rights can serve as a foundation for AI governance that is both long-term and intergenerational—an anchor in building guardrails against exploitation of generative AI technologies. And in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Türk reminded the audience that this will require responsible tech company conduct, thoughtful accountability mechanisms for harms, and access to remedy for victims. In Türk’s words: “Just as people are at the center of human rights, they must be at the center of technology.”

Following High Commissioner Türk’s keynote speech, U.S. Special Envoy and Coordinator for Digital Freedom and former Stanford Global Digital Policy Incubator Executive Director Eileen Donahoe moderated a panel featuring experts across industry, academia, and international institutions working on these very issues. Panelists included Nate Persily, James B. McClatchy Professor, Stanford Law School and International Policy Co-Director, Stanford Cyber Policy Center; Raffi Krikorian, Chief Technical Officer of Engineering, Emerson Collective; Peggy Hicks, Director of Thematic Engagement, UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR); and Alexandria Walden, Global Head of Human Rights, Google. They touched upon questions such as building AI governance that is global rather than fractured, along with the necessity of including marginalized communities and voices from the Global South in assessing the risks of AI and leveraging its benefits. Notably, Persily highlighted that at its core, AI is a “keystone technology” with the power to amplify capabilities—both good and bad—at an unmatched speed and scale. Indeed, as society moves forward into an era of rapid technological innovation, panelists agreed upon the shared stakeholder responsibility in developing both technology and governance that center human agency, dignity, and rights.

The panel event was co-hosted with the Global Digital Policy Incubator (GDPi), Stanford Immigration and Human Rights Law Association (SHRILA), Digital Civil Society Lab (DCSL), and the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI). 

A recording of the full event can be found at the link here.