Human Rights Groups Unite to Support Non-Judicial Methods to Combat Racist Hate Speech

New York City – Today, as the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination gathers in Geneva to host a discussion on racist hate speech, Human Rights First and a number of other organizations have issued a joint statement that details the importance of fighting hatred in the public discourse through non-legal methods. The statement notes that “the debate over how to regulate hate speech is a distraction from immediate, effective and practical non-legal options for addressing racist hate speech.” “There is a trend to constantly identify new legal means to fight hatred, but instead states should assess how to make existing commitments more effective,” said Human Rights First’s Joelle Fiss. “This discussion is an important opportunity for states and those with a shared interest in ending racist hate speech to come together and access best practices moving forward.” The committee’s agenda today includes a focus on the concept of racist hate speech and its evolution over time, combating racist hate speech, the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, racist hate speech and freedom of opinion and expression, and racist hate speech in political life, as well as in the media including the internet. United Nations bodies, specialized agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as academic experts will participate in today’s discussion. The statement signed by Human Rights First – as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Human Rights Campaign, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference on Civil – will be part of that dialogue. For more information about Human Rights First’s work to combat racist hate speech, see the organization’s solutions on how to confront hatred while respecting freedom of expression.

 

STATEMENT TO THE

COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

THEMATIC DISCUSSION ON “RACIST HATE SPEECH”

August 28, 2012

As organizations dedicated to combating racism and bigotry in all forms, we have worked for decades to counter the propagation of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti- Muslim bigotry, and all forms of prejudice in public discourse, including on the Internet. There is no question that the fomenting of hate in the public discourse impairs the ability of members of targeted communities to be treated equally, with dignity and free from harassment. Hate speech also increases the overall level of fear of the targeted community, as a whole. However, the debate over how to regulate hate speech is a distraction from immediate, effective and practical non-legal options for addressing racist hate speech. Unfortunately, racism, discrimination and hate crimes are a fact of everyday life across Member States, even where robust laws banning hate speech are in place.  Therefore, the value of penalizing hate speech as a means to effectively reduce violence targeted against victims of that hate speech, is highly questionable. At the same time, there is much that governments, political leaders and other public figures can do to counter and marginalize hate speech.  In fact, such actions can have far more reach and effectiveness in actually transforming and shaping attitudes than a legal focus on punishing and limiting speech. Political leaders have the most immediate and significant opportunity to set a national tone against racist incitement and to promote values of respect for diversity. Indeed, nothing gives a greater sense of security to vulnerable communities than seeing the unequivocal public rejection of racism.  This signals that the government takes seriously all people’s right to live free of harassment.  Even without hate speech or even hate crimes laws, where there is political will, when local and national officials marginalize and reject hate, people are more secure. In states where hate speech is prohibited by law, judicial remedies are, in no way an effective alternative to a swift condemnation from political leaders.  In some cases, judicial remedies can even serve as an excuse for politicians to evade their own responsibility to speak out against hatred. Political leaders should lead by example in their own country and must never engage in divisive appeals that demonize any member of society based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, disability or religion.  When political leaders are determined to build consensus across party lines to demonstrate that some behaviors are beyond the pale, we see real change.  We know in our own country the power that words have to shape, not only the political debate, but the environment in which targeted communities live. Over our many years of collective experience, we have come together around a set of policy steps that governments can take to implement a comprehensive program to counter racist and other forms of hate and incitement through political and educational – rather than legal – restrictions.  A compendium of these is here. We recognize that hate speech has greater legal protection in the United States than elsewhere in the world. Nonetheless, our organizations have found common cause with NGO partners all over the world working in different legal contexts to focus on practical strategies to confront hatred without limiting speech. We urge the committee to focus on such solution-oriented actions to a greater degree in its coming sessions, including in its concluding observations on reports submitted to the committee by States parties. . American Civil Liberties Union American Jewish Committee Anti-Defamation League Human Rights Campaign Human Rights First Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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Published on August 28, 2012

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