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Statements and speeches Special Procedures

Joint open letter on concerns about the global increase in hate speech

23 September 2019

Signed by 26 mandates, see list below

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. Hate speech, both online and offline, has exacerbated societal and racial tensions, inciting attacks with deadly consequences around the world. It has become mainstream in political systems worldwide and threatens democratic values, social stability and peace. Hate-fuelled ideas and advocacy coarsen public discourse and weaken the social fabric of countries.

Through international human rights law and principles, States have committed to combatting racial discrimination, racialized violence, and xenophobia. These international human rights standards guarantee equality and non-discrimination rights and require States to take strong action against racist and xenophobic speech and to prohibit advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

We are gravely concerned that leaders, senior government officials, politicians and other prominent figures spread fear among the public against migrants or those seen as "the others", for their own political gain. The demonization of entire groups of people as dangerous or inferior is not new to human history; it has led to catastrophic tragedies in the past. Around the world, we observe that public figures are attempting to stoke ethnic tensions and violence by spreading hate speech targeting the vulnerable. Such rhetoric aims to dehumanise minority groups and other targeted people, and, in the case of migrants, fosters discriminatory discourse about who "deserves" to be part of a community. Furthermore, hateful calls for the suppression of non-normative sexual orientations and gender identities and a limitation of the human rights of LGBT people limit progress towards the eradication of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons in various countries around the world, and a number of discriminatory legal and policy initiatives have been put forward.

The rhetoric of hatred must be countered, as it has real-life consequences. Studies have established a correlation between exposure to hate speech and the number of hate crimes committed. To curb xenophobic attacks on migrants and prevent incitement to discrimination, hatred, hostility and violence against other marginalised groups, we call on public officials and politicians, as well as the media, to assume their collective responsibility to promote societies that are tolerant and inclusive. To achieve this, they must refrain from any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. They should also denounce swiftly those who incite hatred against migrants, minorities, or other vulnerable groups.

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.

We call on States to double their efforts to hold accountable those who have incited or perpetrated violence against migrants and other vulnerable groups. Traditional and social media companies should exercise due diligence to ensure that they do not provide platforms for hate speech and for incitement to hatred and violence. States should actively work towards policies that guarantee the rights to equality and non-discrimination and freedom of expression, as well as the right to live a life free of violence through the promotion of tolerance, diversity and pluralistic views; these are the centre of pluralistic and democratic societies. We believe that these efforts will help make countries safer, and foster the inclusive and peaceful societies that we would all like and deserve to live in.

Signed by:

- the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. Felipe González Morales;

- the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye;

- the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed;

- the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Ms E. Tendayi Achiume;

- the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Mr. Fernand de Varennes;

- the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst;

- the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz;

- the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms Dubravka Simonovic;

- the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Ms Maria Grazia Giammarinaro;

- the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana;

- the Independent expert on human rights and international solidarity, Mr. Obiora C. Okafor;

- the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr. Fabian Salvioli;

- the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Mr. Philip Alston;

- the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms Agnes Callamard;

- the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ms Fionnuala Ní Aoláin;

- the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, Ms. Urmila Bhoola;

- the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms Catalina Devandas Aguilar;

- the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls;

- the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises;

- the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent;

- the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Ms Rhona Smith;

- the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Javaid Rehman;

- the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, Mr. Alioune Tine;

- the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee;

- the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Mr. Michael Lynk;

- the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Mr. Bahame Tom Mukirya Nyanduga

French version of the letter is available here.