HRC38: Oral statement on tackling racism and ‘hate speech’


ARTICLE 19 delivered the following oral statement to the UN Human Rights Council’s 38th Session in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on racism. We want to see states revive the Istanbul Process to ensure full implementation of Resolution 16/18.

Mr. President,

At the opening of this Session, the High Commissioner for Human Rights remarked that “only by speaking out can we begin to combat the growing menace of chauvinistic nationalism that stalks our future.”

This speaks to the point that the right to freedom of expression can service equality – if people, particularly those in positions of privilege and power – speak out.

ARTICLE 19’s Camden Principles see freedom of expression and equality as mutually reinforcing. They have informed UN standards, including the Rabat Plan of Action, to set out how discrimination and hate are better tackled through positive measures to open space for expression, rather than through censorship.

We caution against prohibitions on ambiguously defined terms, including “hate speech” or “neo-Nazism”, while rejecting unequivocally the ideology such expression may espouse. Any limitations on expression must meet the requirements of Articles 20 and 19 of the ICCPR, as set out in the Rabat Plan of Action.

It is no coincidence that the same governments that pursue xenophobic policies, including against migrants, such as Hungary, also are the worst culprits when it comes to attacking civil society and seeking to stifle critical voices.

Opening civic space is essential to tackling the root causes of racism.

ARTICLE 19 has been working with partners across six EU countries in its #MediaAgainstHate project. Our research has found that inconsistent legal frameworks provide opportunities for political abuse, often rendering individuals already made vulnerable by discrimination at further risk. While many media play an essential role in informing the public and do so ethically, an influential minority are part of the problem. Measures to promote media diversity and pluralism, and effective mechanisms for self-regulation to tackle discriminatory media coverage, are essential.

We call on States in this Council to revive the Istanbul Process on the implementation of Resolution 16/18. Identifying and sharing good practices in addressing intolerance on the basis of religion or belief is essential to respond to the trends identified by the High Commissioner and Special Rapporteur, yet no meeting has been held for 2 years.

Lastly, we would like to draw the Special Rapporteur’s attention to our new policy: “side stepping rights”, which outlines the human rights challenges posed when States pressure social media companies to remove content online, often without transparency or process. We encourage that our recommendations, including to ensure the expression of minority groups, are considered in your upcoming work on the role of the technology sector.

Thank you.