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Penn Law’s Global Institute for Human Rights presented policy briefs to the UNDP

June 24, 2019

Students developed briefs with the aim of informing and shaping the work of international policymakers to advance the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

On June 14, students from Penn Law’s Global Institute for Human Rights presented 16 policy briefs to the United Nations Development Programme, including one detailing the emerging use of artificial intelligence to combat mental illness among refugees in Lebanon. Students developed briefs with the aim of informing and shaping the work of international policymakers to advance the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

“One of the hallmarks of the Institute was to go beyond the grand idea of the inalienable human rights to the dialectical interplay of theory and praxis in addressing emerging twenty-first century challenges with twenty-first century solutions,” said Rangita de Silva de Alwis, the Academic Director of the Institute and Penn Law’s Associate Dean for International Programs.  

Brinda Ramesh, Isabelle Breier, Kyle Ebelt, and Marisol Espinal prepared and presented the brief on AI and refugee mental illness. Citing data from the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, the students noted that Lebanon has the most refugees per capita of any country in the world, and — consistent with international patterns — refugees in Lebanon overwhelmingly lack mental health services. The UN Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) 2017-2020 explains: “[w]omen, girls and boys with disabilities are among the most vulnerable to neglect, abuse, and exploitation. Needs continue to exceed what service providers can address, including the provision of rehabilitation services, assistive devices, and mental health care.”

They also cited Goal 3.4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which includes the “[promotion of] mental health and well-being[,]” and Article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which calls upon “States Parties [to] take effective and appropriate measures … to enable persons with disabilities to attain and maintain … full [] mental [] ability, and full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life.”

The brief then set forth the students’ policy proposal:

“In the Global Institute for Human Rights at Penn Law, we appreciated and embraced the impact of technology in addressing human rights violations. In light of UN EQUALS’ work in using technology in the service of human rights, as well as our knowledge from the Institute about technology’s potential, we propose to address the grave, yet overwhelmingly unmet need for mental health care in refugee camps in Lebanon with a telehealth app. The app, which will be available in all languages spoken by the refugees, will use artificial intelligence to screen, identify, and diagnose mental illness among the refugees. It will then provide a wellness plan, including referrals to care and resources, that are uniquely suited to each person. The purpose of this feature is to add triage to the intake process so professionals will have more time to address individuals at higher risk.”

Penn Law hosted the Global Institute for Human Rights from June 10 to 14. The Institute brought together students from around the world for an immersive and intensive one-week program to engage in critical debates and discussions on urgent human rights issues, including women’s rights and the rights of migrants and refugees. This year’s cohort of attendees included students from the United States, Korea, France, and Canada. Organized by Penn Law’s Legal Education Programs under the leadership of Executive Director Cheryl Hardy, the Institute was held at the Law School and Penn’s Perry World House and concluded with the visit to the UN.

During the program, senior leaders and policymakers from the United Nation’s Office of the Legal Counsel, International Labor Organization, UN Women, UN EQUALS, UN Victims’ Rights Advocate, UNDP, Microsoft for Startups, and the Woodrow Wilson Center engaged students in roundtables and fireside chats on leading-edge topics from current intergovernmental debates to the future of work and the United Nations.

Among the speakers at the Institute was Vinicius Pinheiro, Deputy Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for the UN, who reminded attendees of the symbolic importance of Philadelphia for the ILO: “The Declaration of Philadelphia, which is an integral part of the ILO Constitution, was forged in this city and remains an important symbol for ILO’s 100-year anniversary celebrated this year,” said Pinheiro. The 1944 Declaration restated the objectives of the ILO, recognizing the centrality of human rights to social policy and the need for international economic planning.

Lopa Banerjee, Director of the Civil Society Division at UN Women, also engaged with students during the Institute.

“The Institute at Penn Law fulfills the highest aspirations of the United Nations to train the next generation of advocates in partnership with leading academic institutions like Penn Law School,” said Banerjee.