Around the world, we are seeing a disturbing groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance – including rising anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and persecution of Christians.Social media and other forms of communication are being exploited as platforms for bigotry.Neo-Nazi and white supremacy movements are on the march. Public discourse is being weaponized for political gain with incendiary rhetoric that stigmatizes and dehumanizes minorities, migrants, refugees, women and any so-called “other”.This is not an isolated phenomenon or the loud voices of a few people on the fringe of society.
Hate is moving into the mainstream – in liberal democracies and authoritarian systems alike.And with each broken norm, the pillars of our common humanity are weakened.Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace.
As a matter of principle, the United Nations must confront hate speech at every turn. Silence can signal indifference to bigotry and intolerance, even as a situation escalates and the vulnerable become victims.Tackling hate speech is also crucial to deepen progress across the United Nations agenda by helping to prevent armed conflict, atrocity crimes and terrorism, end violence against women and other serious violations of human rights, and promote peaceful, inclusive and just societies.
Addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech. It means keeping hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, which is prohibited under international law.
The United Nations has a long history of mobilizing the world against hatred of all kinds through wide-ranging action to defend human rights and advance the rule of law. Indeed, the very identity and establishment of the Organization are rooted in the nightmare that ensues when virulent hatred is left unopposed for too long.Today, I fear, we have reached another acute moment in battling this demon, and so I have asked my Senior Advisers to explore what more we can do.
This Strategy and Plan of Action Is the result. It points to concrete ways in which the United Nations can play its part in addressing hate speech around the world while upholding freedom of opinion and expression,in collaboration with Governments, civil society, the private sector and other partners.By enhancing global resilience against this insidious phenomenon, we can strengthen the bonds of society and build a better world for all.
-- Antonio Guterres
What is hate speech
There is no international legal definition of hate speech, and the characterization of what is ‘hateful’ is controversial and disputed. In the context of this document, the term hate speech is understood as any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, thatattacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a groupon the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality,race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.
This is often rooted in, and generates intolerance and hatred and, in certain contexts, can be demeaning and divisive.Rather than prohibiting hate speech as such, international law prohibits the incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence (referred to here as ‘incitement’). Incitement is avery dangerous form of speech, because it explicitly and deliberately aims at triggering discrimination, hostility and violence, which may also lead to or include terrorism or atrocity crimes.
Hate speech that does not reach the threshold of incitement is not something that international law requires States to prohibit. It is important to underline that even when not prohibited, hate speech may to be harmful.
The impact of hate speech cuts across numerous existing United Nations areas of operations, including: human rights protection; prevention of atrocity crime; preventing and countering terrorism and the underlying spread of violent extremism and counterterrorism;preventing and addressing gender-based violence; enhancing protection of civilians; refugee protection; the fight against all forms of racism and discrimination;protection of minorities; sustaining peace; and engaging women, children and youth.Addressing hate speech, therefore, requires a coordinated response that tackles the root causes and drivers of hate speech, as well as its impact on victims and society more broadly.
The UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech aims to give to the United Nations the room and the resources to address hate speech, which poses a threat to United Nations principles, values and programmes. Measures taken will be in line with international human rights norms and standards, in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
The objectives are two fold:
- Enhance UN efforts to address root causes and drivers of hate speech
- Enable effective UN responses to the impact of hate speech on societies
In order to address hate speech, the UN will implement actions at global and country level, as well as enhance internal cooperation among relevant UN entities.
The Strategy will be guided by the following principles:
1. The strategy and its implementation to be in line with the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The UN supports more speech, not less, as the key means to address hate speech;
2. Tackling hate speech is the responsibility of all – governments, societies, the private sector, starting with individual women and men. All are responsible, all must act;
3. In the digital age, the UN should support a new generation of digital citizens,empowered to recognize, reject and stand up to hate speech;
4. We need to know more to act effectively – this calls for coordinated data collection and research, including on the root causes, drivers and conditions conducive to hate speech.