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Statements Special Procedures

International Roma Day8 April 202150 years on: A time to celebrate, but scourge of hate speech rising

07 April 2021

GENEVA (7 April 2021) – The Roma minority this year celebrate 50 years since the first World Romani Congress in 1971. The UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, issues the following statement to mark International Roma Day on 8 April:

“While the anniversary may be a cause for celebration, the rise of hate speech disproportionally targeting Sinti and Roma in social media demonstrates the urgent need for greater focus and measures to control those forms of online hate speech which violate international human rights obligations and can lead to violence against Sinti, Roma and other minorities.

“Not much seems to have changed since last year when we reflected on the prevalence of hate speech against minorities, in particular Roma, both online and in mainstream media which included scapegoating of Roma for the spread of the Covid virus. Public authorities who not only condoned but actively took part in such vitriol could contribute to threats to public health and incite unnecessary and future harm.

Online hate begets offline violence, and unfortunately Roma have experienced physical attacks linked to the vitriol and scapegoating increasingly aimed at them because of hate, bigotry and intolerance towards minorities which has become almost normalised, and even politicised in some countries. As my 2020 report on hate speech, social media and minorities warned, inflammatory speech online can lead to violent acts against minorities, as has been seen in incidents in Europe where far-right groups hatred against Roma expressed on social media led to violence and killings.

“Given the situation, I would urge States prioritise the strengthening of measures to combat prejudice, hate speech and discrimination of Roma together with ways to effectively implement and monitor such measures. I would also invite States, civil society organisations and Roma minorities from all regions of the world to participate in this year’s regional fora which focus on minorities and the prevention of conflict and which can be triggered as a result of hate speech.”


Fernand de Varennes was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2017. He is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things. He is Extraordinary Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Pretoria in South Africa; Cheng Yu Tung Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong; and Visiting Professor at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland-Galway. He is one of the world's leading experts on minority rights in international law, with more than 200 publications in some 30 languages.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

See the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities

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