Safeguarding equality in Europe: Contributing to the Council of Europe’s Convention on Artificial Intelligence

Equinet continues to be at the forefront of promoting an equality-compliant use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Europe. Read about latest Equinet’s contributions to the developing Council of Europe (CoE) legal framework on AI, calling for robust and independent oversight and enforcement mechanisms. 

Joint Equinet-ENNHRI statement to the Council of Europe Committee on Artificial Intelligence 

The Council of Europe Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAI) is drafting a Convention on Artificial Intelligence, Human Rights, Democracy, and Rule of Law, which will set out the first European framework on the protection of human rights in relation to Artificial Intelligence.  

Equinet and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) recognize the importance of addressing the negative impact of AI-enabled technology on human rights and equality and advocate for more effective oversight and enforcement mechanisms at the national and Council of Europe level. Equinet and ENNHRI submitted a Joint statement on Chapter VII (national and European-level oversight mechanisms) of the draft Convention to CAI, highlighting the lack of sufficient safeguards for the compliance of AI systems with human rights obligations in the current draft text, and proposing a series of amendments. 

Since January 2023, Equinet has held an observer status before CAI and has contributed comments in relation to European and national oversight mechanisms based on the Revised Zero Draft of the Convention at CAI’s plenary meeting in February.

Building on this, in this Joint Statement, Equinet and ENNHRI call for the Convention to: 

  • Guarantee the independence and impartiality of national supervisory authorities
  • Guarantee adequate resources and necessary powers for them to fulfill their tasks. At a minimum, powers of investigation to handle individual complaints and to issue decisions and, as appropriate, to impose administrative sanctions; 
  • Align the roles and powers of supervisory authorities with other bodies, such as National Equality Bodies;
  • Include safeguards that enable cooperation between supervisory authorities, Equality Bodies, and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).  

 Finally, the Joint Statement recommends setting a "Committee of Parties" rather than a “Conference of the Parties” within the Council of Europe structure. The Committee of Parties should involve national supervisory authorities and include a subgroup composed of experts from Equality Bodies, NHRIs, and other organizations working on the topic,  that would advise the Committee. 

Meeting the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner

On 30-31 March, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatović, met with Heads and senior representatives of Equality Bodies and National Human Rights Institutions in Amsterdam to discuss their experience in protecting human rights and equality in societies where AI and technology are increasingly present. 

The Human Rights Commissioner recognised the critical role played by Equality Bodies and NHRIs in preventing and mitigating the impacts of AI systems on equality and human rights. During the two-day event, Equality Bodies and NHRIs exchanged good practices and highlighted the need for a more comprehensive and human rights-based approach to the use of AI. Participants also underlined the need to address the lack of transparency or access to information about the use of automated decision-making systems, including in public institutions.  

Equinet Co-Director Anne Gaspard and ENNHRI Secretary-General Debbie Kohner moderated a session on “Other roles and challenges for National Human Rights Structures related to the use of AI”. In connection with the Human Rights Commissioner's 2019 Recommendation ‘Unboxing AI – 10 steps to protect human rights’, this session aimed at identifying challenges faced by Equality Bodies and NHRIs, and discussing ways to overcome them through potential new roles and partnerships. Participants also discussed the role of Equality Bodies and NHRIs in the implementation of  future European AI legislation.