International Human Rights Law and A.I. Governance

Hosted by The Toronto Philosophy Meetup

Public group


The increasing use and deployment of artificial intelligence (A.I.) poses many challenges for human rights. This talk is largely a mapping exercise and explores the advantages and disadvantages of using international human rights law to regulate AI applications. Particularly, it examines existing strategies by international bodies, national governments, corporations, and non-profit partnerships on how to govern and consequently ensure the development of AI is consistent with the protection of human rights.

Not all of these strategies refer to or include references to human rights law or principles. In fact, most of them are self-adopted ethical guidelines or self-regulating norms based on a variety of sources to mitigate the risks and challenges of, as well as identifying the opportunities brought about by AI-powered systems. In recent years, academic and policy literature from a variety of disciplines has emphasized the importance of a human rights-based approach to AI governance. That means identifying risks to recognized human rights, obliging governments to incorporate their human rights obligations in their respective national policies, and even applying international human rights law itself. This was encapsulated in the Toronto Declaration, issued last May 2018 by a group of academics and civil liberties groups, which called on states and companies to meet their existing responsibilities to safeguard human rights.

But save for few exceptions, it remains a question what and how that approach concretely looks like, and why it is beneficial to do so in the first place.

Anna Su
Associate Professor
Faculty of Law
University of Toronto

About the Speaker:

Anna Su's primary areas of research include the history of international human rights law, U.S. constitutional law (First Amendment), and law and religion. Her research has appeared in journals such as the Notre Dame Law Review, Supreme Court Law Review, International Journal of Constitutional Law, and Journal of Catholic Legal Studies.

She is the author of Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power (Harvard 2016), which charts the rise of religious freedom as an ideal firmly enshrined in international law and shows how America’s promotion of the cause of individuals worldwide to freely practice their faith advanced its ascent as a global power. (


NOTE: This is a talk and Q&A presented by the University of Toronto's Centre for Ethics that is open to the public. The Toronto Philosophy Meetup is not affiliated with the Centre although some of us will be in attendance. Sometimes we look for each other after the event for further discussion about the topic.

About the Centre For Ethics ( at the University of Toronto:

The Centre for Ethics is an interdisciplinary centre aimed at advancing research and teaching in the field of ethics, broadly defined. The Centre seeks to bring together the theoretical and practical knowledge of diverse scholars, students, public servants and social leaders in order to increase understanding of the ethical dimensions of individual, social, and political life.

In pursuit of its interdisciplinary mission, the Centre fosters lines of inquiry such as (1) foundations of ethics, which encompasses the history of ethics and core concepts in the philosophical study of ethics; (2) ethics in action, which relates theory to practice in key domains of social life, including bioethics, business ethics, and ethics in the public sphere; and (3) ethics in translation, which draws upon the rich multiculturalism of the City of Toronto and addresses the ethics of multicultural societies, ethical discourse across religious and cultural boundaries, and the ethics of international society.

See here for other events presented by the Centre For Ethics: