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Hate speech and incitement to hatred or violence

Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

Hate speech

In May 2019, the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech was launched highlighting that a disturbing groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance is being observed around the world. Social media and other forms of communication are being exploited as platforms for bigotry. Public discourse is being weaponized for political gain with incendiary rhetoric that stigmatizes and dehumanizes minorities, migrants, refugees, women and any so-called “other”.

Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace. As a matter of principle, hate speech must be confronted at every turn and be tackled in order to prevent armed conflict, atrocity crimes and terrorism, end violence against women and other serious violations of human rights, and promote peaceful, inclusive and just societies.

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief addressed increasing limitations on freedom of expression related to religion or belief that take the form of anti hate speech laws, read the 2019 report (A/HRC/40/58).

Incitement to hatred or violence

Violence in “the name of religion” is often manifested through targeted attacks on individuals or communities, acts of extremism or terrorism, communal violence, State repression, discriminative policies or legislation and other types of embedded structural violence. Incidents involving hate speech, negative stereotyping, and advocacy of religious or national hatred have resulted in killings of innocent people, attacks on places of worship and calls for reprisals. Such violence also disproportionately targets religious dissidents, members of religious minorities, converts or non-believers.

The UN Rabat Plan of Action stresses the collective responsibility of public officials, religious and community leaders, the media and individuals, and the need to nurture social consciousness, tolerance, mutual respect, and intercultural dialogue to prevent incitement to hatred.

Read the Special Rapporteur’s reports on violence committed “in the name of religion” (A/HRC/28/66) and on the need to tackle manifestations of collective religious hatred (A/HRC/25/58).

Recent activities

5 June 2020

UNESCO organized a webinar on “The COVID-19 pandemic of disinformation and hate speech: How can education and digital citizenship help?”. The webinar explored how education can support young people in navigating the online world in relation to civic engagement.

15 May 2020
The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief in an interview on “Why do hatred and antisemitism spike during crises?” with UNESCO talked about the reasons for which underlying and unchecked hatred and intolerance flare up in times of stress. The Special Rapporteur said education, including social and emotional skills, can counter hate speech. UNESCO and OSAPG have brought world experts together to define hate speech and prepare for a global education ministers’ conference later in 2020.

1 April 2014
Feature story: Tackling manifestations of collective hatred

Contempt, fear, mistrust and political tactics are the principal causes of collective religious hatred, the UN expert on freedom of religion and belief said.

23 November 2011
Feature story: Addressing incitement to hatred in the Americas

Human rights experts discussed the implementation of international human rights standards in addressing incitement to hatred in the Americas.

22 July 2011
Feature story: Tackling incitement to hatred in the Asia Pacific region

Human rights experts gathered at a regional workshop to understand the legislation and policies on incitement to hatred in the Asia Pacific.

27 April 2011
Feature story: Solutions sought on incitement to hatred in Africa

A regional workshop addressed incitement to national, racial and religious hatred in Africa.

18 February 2011
Feature story: Expert workshop on the prohibition of incitement to hatred

Human rights experts met in Vienna to focus on the implementation of the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred in Europe.