Expert workshop on the prohibition of incitement to hatred

Lines between freedom of expression and prohibited forms of speech have come increasingly under focus as the world becomes more interconnected. The UN Human Rights office (OHCHR) held an expert workshop in Vienna, Austria, on 9 and 10 February 2011, on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred. The workshop for Europe is part of a series of such workshops that OHCHR will be organizing this year in Bangkok, Nairobi, and Santiago.

Experts meet to focus on the implementation of the prohibition of incitement to hatred © OHCHR credit “In many parts of the world, freedom of expression unfortunately remains a distant dream, facing resistance from those who benefit from silencing dissent, stifling criticism, or blocking discussion on challenging social issues,” said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, as she opened the first day of the event in a video message.

Pillay said, “the enriching variety of backgrounds merging in communities around the world physically or virtually through modern technology-also presents a mounting challenge to States as they seek to promote and ensure mutual respect, social harmony, equal opportunity and fairness of treatment to all." 

The workshop aimed at gaining a better understanding of legislative patterns, judicial practices and policies with regard to the concept of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred, while also ensuring full respect for freedom of expression as outlined in articles 19 and 20, at the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

While recognising the richness of institutions and measures taken, both at the national and European level, the discussions showed that European laws and jurisprudence can be described as a patchwork, often inconsistent and vague in their application. The workshop was also informed that there is low recourse to judicial mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights in cases that involve incitement to hatred. A detailed report of the workshop, reflecting the discussions and suggestions made, will be published at a later time.

The workshop was attended by a number of civil society organizations, academics, ombudspersons, and member state representatives. The team of experts included: Ms. Agnès Callamard, the Executive Director of Article 19, a civil society group that promotes and defends freedom of expression; Mr. Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists; Mr. Alexander Verkhovsky, Director of the SOVA Centre, a Moscow-based  organization that conducts research on nationalism and racism; Ms. Anastasia Crickley, Member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; Ms. Dimitrina Petrova, founding Executive of the Equal Rights Trust; Mr. Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Jose Vera Jardim, Vice President of the Portuguese Parliament; Mr. Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of Minority Rights Group international; Mr. Michael O’Flaherty, Member of the UN Human Rights Committee; Ms. Nazila Ghanea, Lecturer in international human rights law at Oxford University; and Mr. Ömür Orhun, Advisor to the Secretary-General of the OIC.

18 February 2011