A group of experts from the United Nations (UN) has published an open letter calling on UN Member States and social media platforms to take action on hate speech.
The hate speech open letter, which is signed by 24 independent experts, Special Rapporteurs and working groups, says: ‘We are alarmed by the recent increase in hateful messages and incitement to discrimination and hatred against migrants, minority groups and various ethnic groups, as well as the defenders of their rights, in numerous countries.’ The signatories warn that hate speech both online and offline has become increasingly prevalent; and remind Member States that they should be committed to opposing xenophobia, discrimination and violence.
The letter notes that, historically, generalising or marginalising entire groups of people has had largely negative consequences; and calls on public officials to refrain from engaging in populist tactics such as scapegoating migrants.
The letter cautions: ‘This is not a call for further restriction on freedom of expression, which is under attack worldwide; we call for just the opposite, the promotion of free expression. Freedom of expression serves as a vital tool to counter hate speech, and yet those same public figures who deploy hateful rhetoric often seek to restrict individual rights to speak and respond and defend themselves and their ideas. It is of crucial importance that States ensure that the three-part test for restrictions to freedom of expression – legality, proportionality and necessity – also applies to cases of incitement to hatred. We are concerned about the abuse of “hate speech” as a term to undermine legitimate dissent and urge States to address the core problems addressed by human rights law while promoting rights to privacy, culture, non-discrimination, public protest and peaceful assembly, public participation, freedom of religion and belief, and the freedom of opinion and expression. We urge them to follow the standards adopted in the Rabat Plan of Action and to participate actively in the Istanbul Process to counter the intolerance we see worldwide.’