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Freedom of opinion and expression

Addressing incitement to hatred in the Americas

23 November 2011


At the last in a series of regional workshops organized by the UN human rights office, human rights experts in Santiago, Chile, discussed the laws, jurisprudence and policies which tackle incitement to national, racial or religious hatred in the Americas.

In an opening statement, the UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, stressed that equality, respect and tolerance were increasingly needed in an era of deepening interaction and mutual learning among people of different origins.

“Today all of us struggle to grasp the full implications of the rapid development of globalisation as we seek to assert our own identities and our historical heritage while adapting to the increasingly interconnected world offered by modern communication methods,” Pillay said.

“Regrettably, those that are identified as the “others”, as people who do not share a community’s history, traditions and values are all too often perceived as predatory competitors, or at least a threat to the stability of that community’s belief system,” she added.

Since the 1990s, many countries in the Americas have taken a non-legislative approach to implementing international standards to combat and punish acts of incitement to hatred, by adopting public policies and establishing various types of institutions.

However, experts noted that institutions and legislation may not suffice to alter historically deep seated patterns of intolerance and structural. States, they said, should act on many other levels, including through prevention and by promoting tolerance in schools and through public statements by State officials.

While hostile and intolerant messages regularly appear in traditional and new media, experts urged caution when considering restricting the press - because of the important role a free press plays in democratic societies and also because of the general consequences it may have on the right to freedom of expression. The experts advised news outlets to adopt self-regulatory mechanisms, including codes of conduct and ethics committees.

The experts noted that addressing the root causes of a problem will always be more effective than imposing sanctions on perpetrators. They recommended training and sensitizing official bodies - such as the police, prosecutors and judges - as well as civil society organizations, to hate speech that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. They also stressed the important role of independent national human rights institutions to combat intolerance.

Furthermore, the experts emphasized the need to establish or empower existing bodies to diffuse tensions between communities. They also recommended more cooperation between local government, local law enforcement, civil society groups and community leaders to ensure effective responses to violence and incitement to hatred.

23 November 2011