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Fighting extremism for the sake of human rights

Extremist organisations incite discrimination against specific groups by blaming them for the insecurity and socio-economic problems experienced by the general population, finds Githu Muigai, former Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism.

Left wing protesters are surrounded by police during a neo-Nazi demonstration © EPA photo/HENDRIK SCHMIDTVulnerable groups, such as members of minorities, Roma and Sinti, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, are the main victims of violence by extremists who also often regard themselves as embodying the only legitimate national identity of a given country, Muigai adds.

Most victims of violent attacks do not report incidents. This is because they fear the police, do not trust the criminal justice system, fear reprisals or are ignorant of their rights. Because of this, extremist groups continue to incite and perpetrate racially motivated violence, sometimes with total impunity. Despite measures taken by States and other stakeholders, countering extremism remains a challenge.

“States must take the measures necessary to ensure that perpetrators of racially motivated acts are held responsible and brought to justice,” notes the Rapporteur. “They should also pay due attention to the victims of such crimes, especially those belonging to vulnerable groups, by providing them with effective means to make complaints and to have access to effective remedies.”

In 2001, at the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, States recognized that political platforms based on racism, xenophobia or racist doctrines are incompatible with democracy. Unfortunately, reports received by Muigai show that since then extremist organizations have gained influence in a number of countries and regions.

The rhetoric by extremist political parties blaming migrants for political, economic and social problems has gained more supporters in the current economic crisis. In recent years, the number of seats occupied by representatives of extremist political parties, including far-right political parties, has continued to increase in national and regional parliaments.

Some extremist organizations and political parties have adopted new strategies to secure a place on the political scene by refraining from openly propagating racist and xenophobic discourse. For example, some have adopted a more moderate tone in order to gain votes and avoid being the subject of legal complaints. In some countries, alliances have been formed between traditional and extremist political parties in order to be elected.

On the other hand, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern about laws on extremism being used to deprive political opponents of democratic legitimacy by labelling them as extremist, and to unduly limit freedom of expression. He reminds States that they must ensure that all individuals and groups of individuals enjoy fully their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association as enshrined in articles 19 to 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“In any democratic society, individuals must be able to challenge the system in place and propose ideas for change,” he says. “All individuals, regardless of their ideas, including those deemed radical, should be guaranteed without discrimination the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through chosen representatives, and to vote or to be elected at genuine elections.”

13 October 2011

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