Secretary-General: Hate speech ‘on notice’

Monday, 24 June 2019

Wednesday, 19 June 2019 | New York | Department of Global Communications (DGC) | UN News 

Secretary-General António Guterres has declared war on hate speech, telling Member States on Tuesday, that we all need to “do better at looking out for each other”.

“Hate speech may have gained a foothold, but it is now on notice,” Mr. Guterres said, launching the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech. “We will never stop confronting it.”

While the strategy and action plan are new, it is also rooted in the need to respect the human rights of all, barring any discrimination.

The UN Charter was drafted after the world had witnessed genocide on an industrial scale, when hate speech against Jews, culminated in the Holocaust. Almost 75 years on, Mr. Guterres reminded delegates gathered at UN Headquarters in New York, that “we are in danger of forgetting this lesson”.

“Around the world, we see a groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance, violent misogyny, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred” he stated, noting that in some places, Christian communities were also being systematically attacked.

Moreover, “hateful and destructive views” are amplified “exponentially” through digital technology and extremists are gathering online, radicalizing new recruits, according to the UN chief.

“In both liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes, some political leaders are bringing the hate-fuelled ideas and language of these groups into the mainstream, normalizing them, coarsening the public discourse and weakening the social fabric,” he spelled out. 

Hate speech not only attacks human rights norms and principles, it also undermines social cohesion, erodes shared values and lays the foundation for violence – setting back the cause of peace, stability, sustainable development and the fulfilment of human rights for all.

Mr. Guterres dubbed hate speech a “precursor” to the genocide in RwandaBosniaCambodia and recent mass-violence directed at places of worship, in Sri LankaNew Zealand and the United States.

Keep hate speech from escalating

The UN Strategy and Plan of Action provides a system-wide programme with the overriding objective of identifying, preventing and confronting hate speech, the Secretary-General said.

It targets “the root causes of hate speech, in line with my prevention vision”, he said, pointing out that these include tackling violence, marginalization, discrimination, and poverty, as well as bolstering weak state institutions.

While many of these are being addressed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the new strategy goes further by recommending a coordinated response, such as identifying users of hate speech.

Secondly, the strategy aims to enable the UN to respond to “the impact of hate speech on societies”, Mr. Guterres explained, including by bringing individuals and groups together who have opposing views; working with traditional and social media platforms; and developing communications guidance.

While digital technology has provided new areas for hate speech to thrive, the UN chief maintained that “it can also help to monitor activity, target our response and build support for counter-narratives”, such as in proposals made last week by his High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation.

“Addressing hate speech should never be confused with suppressing freedom of expression”, he asserted, but instead keep it from “escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence”.

The Secretary-General urged everyone to treat hate speech “like any other malicious act: by condemning it unconditionally; refusing to amplify it; countering it with the truth; and encouraging the perpetrators to change their behaviour”.