The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) launched on 2 Dec, 2015 a new initiative to curb hate speech in the media with a one-day symposium at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The event was the first of a series of international symposia for constructive dialogue on hate speech and the sharing of best practices through debates with journalists who report and investigate xenophobia, hate speech, and violent extremism. This new UNAOC initiative consists of a strategic media campaign (#SpreadNoHate) and a complete report of the proceedings, which will include a set of concrete policy recommendations. The next discussion will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan, during the UNAOC seventh global forum in April 2016.
The December 2 symposium opened with an opening statement by H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al–Nasser, UNAOC High Representative, followed by keynote remarks by Ms. Cristina Gallach, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, and Mr. Jean-Paul Laborde, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED).
H.E. MR. NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER
UNITED NATIONS HIGH REPRESENTATIVE
UNITED NATIONS ALLIANCE OF CIVILIZATIONS
Opening of the Symposium on Tracking Hatred
New York, 2 December, 2015
Allow me at the beginning to welcome our keynote speakers, H. E. Ms. Cristina Gallach, Under Secretary-General for Communications & Public Information and Mr. Jean-Paul Laborde, Executive Director, Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate.
Media is and has always been an intriguing topic of discussion at any given time. The reason is obvious: media is a major factor in shaping our perceptions and views.
When the high level group identified media as one of the 4 pillars of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, they were right on target.
Ten years later, media remains even more relevant today than ever.
The digital revolution that has taken our world by a storm has transformed the way we transmit and receive information. We have seen how the internet , social media, smart phones and satellite television as new media platforms have dramatically changed global media landscape.
Yet we know there are also road bumps along the information superhighway.
We see how radical groups have hijacked these new media platforms and used it as an advocacy tool for their extremist ideologies, and inciting violence and hatred. In doing so, they have assaulted not only individuals , but also global values representing the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On the other hand , we see those who also use information technology to reinforce stereotypes, stigmatization and demonization against certain race , faith, or sexual orientation.
That being said, our next goal should be winning the battle of ideas.
Today, as the flow of migrants continues to rise worldwide, so do anti-immigrant rhetoric and examples of harsh treatment of immigrants. All over the world, there has been a sharp rise in incidents of both governments and individuals using hate speech against migrants and minority communities, blaming them for their nations’ struggles. The words used in politics, in the news, and in social media have consequences. As history has shown, rhetorical excesses can give rise to a climate of prejudice, discrimination and violence.
In keeping with its mission to promote dialogue between cultures, civilizations, faiths, and peoples, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) is creating a platform for constructive dialogue on hate speech and the best practices to prevent it by launching today the first of a series of symposia on Tracking Hate Speech in the media.
We’re putting particular emphasis on engaging the global media space and journalists, especially those who are well positioned to report, comment on, and investigate xenophobia, hate speech, violent extremism and prejudice.
As such, the UNAOC Hate Speech initiative allows participants to examine the different measures that have been taken globally to curb hate speech, discuss their limitations and best practices. This is an opportunity to explore the reasons why hate speech remains a pervasive element that contributes to violent extremism, and the link between hate speech and the treatment of migrants.
1) The next discussion will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan, during our seventh global forum in April 2016.
2) The second element of this initiative is a strategic media campaign to disseminate and share key messages. We want to ensure maximum reach and greater impact of the cycle of symposia. The media campaign actively engages our global followers, on several social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. We invite you to join the discussion online today by using the hashtag #SpreadNoHate. Your messages will be posted on the screen right behind me.
3) Finally, at the conclusion of the cycle of symposia, UNAOC will compile all the information shared during the various panels and draft a complete report of the proceedings, which will include a set of concrete policy recommendations. This publication will be made available for download on the UNAOC’s new website, www.unaoc.org, in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
The work completed through the UNAOC Hate Speech initiative will benefit journalists of all nationalities, advocates, policy-makers and the general public by providing them with a more complete and nuanced understanding of the topic of hate speech, which in turn will contribute to a richer public debate. The program will also significantly contribute to a better integration of immigrant communities and the establishment of a global standard and legal framework for improved treatment of immigrants.
In that regard, I invite you to explore forming partnerships aimed at enhancing our work and our use of Media, as an enlightening tool for our common path.
Wishing you all fruitful and interesting discussions.
I now give the floor to Ms. Cristina Gallach, UNDER SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR COMMUNICATIONS & PUBLIC INFORMATION
USG for Communications and Public Information
Your Excellency, Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations,
Dear colleague, Jean-Paul Laborde, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s such an honour for me to address this very important initiative at a time when hate speech has incited so much violence around the world, with fatal consequences.
The world has witnessed this very recently in Paris where, at last count, 130 people have died at the hands of nine young men who heeded the ISIS call for violence and succumbed to hate speech.
Hate speech has been with us for a long time.
We will never forget the slaughter of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during a brief three month period in Rwanda in 1994. We will never forget either the six million Jews plus five million others who perished because of one hateful vision.
Today, however, more than ever, individuals are using hate speech to foment clashes between civilizations in the name of religion. Their goal is to radicalize young boys and girls, to get them to see the world in black and white, good versus evil, and get them to embrace a path of violence as the only way forward. And this happens when at the same time, communication tools such as social media and the internet allow these individuals to broadcast hate speech easily. And to millions.
We have a big problem on our hands.
There are at least two possible responses. Pass and enforce laws that prohibit the incitement of hatred or violence. And use communications to establish a counter-messaging to hate speech. It is this last part – the communications part – that I would like to address today.
Before doing so, allow me to make one quite important point. What constitutes hate speech can lie in the eye of the beholder. While many instances of hate speech are clear, such as incitements to hatred or violence, others are not so clear cut. Are the cartoons that were published by Charlie Hebdo and that were offensive to Muslims around the world, hate speech? Should their publication have been prohibited because they were offensive to many, or would that have been a violation of freedom of speech, a core human right? There are no easy answers to these questions, and I hope that today’s dialogue will help us find more clarity.
What I would say is that no matter how offensive one may find the speech of others, no matter how much one may agree with calls that could an incitement of hatred against another group, one cannot succumb to violence. Nothing robs us more of our dignity than violence.
So how do we combat hate speech? How can we prevent boys and girls, women and men from falling prey to their messages?
Allow me to name three ways.
First, we must present images, even harsh ones, in a manner that appeal to our better nature. Think of Aylan, the young boy found face down on the beach. A heart-wrenching picture. But one that appealed to our common humanity. That made us see the migrant crisis in a whole new way. Not as people who were going to cripple the budgets of European countries and take away all their social benefits. But as desperate people who just needed a helping hand.
Second, we must come up with powerful universal messages that focus on that which unite us: the ways we share common values such as respect for our parents, our children, or our desire for a better future. These powerful universal messages must be short, and concise in a manner that matches the way we communicate today. They must also be easily understood anywhere in the world.
Third, we must monitor social media and quickly respond to hate speech. Of course, in an age when Facebook has over 1.5 billion monthly active users, or Twitter has over 300 million users, monitoring might be almost an impossible task, but we can achieve this with the involvement of citizens of the world, who are going to be our crucial partners in combatting hate speech.
The United Nations alone, nor anyone in this room, alone, can do it. But we should be able to encourage citizens all over the world who encounter hate speech on social media to respond to it. To respond to posts inciting violence, or to posts inciting hatred towards a group of people. We must encourage them to register their dissent. We all should register our dissent. And the media should, in particular, register their dissent.
Fighting back against hate speech is a collective responsibility, belonging to not only Member States, but to all of us, including the media.
If citizens of the world and the media are crucial partners, the other crucial partner are corporations. They have a role in this as well. They must take very seriously the task of deleting content that incites violence, or hatred. When certain content is flagged to them by users, they should act immediately. And they should take this responsibility without delay.
Allow me to end with an image. One that took place very recently. As many of you know, Pope Francis just concluded two days ago a visit to the Central African Republic, a country where we have seen severe clashes between Muslims and Christians. As reported by the media, a group of Muslim rebels joined thousands of people at the mass that the Pope gave at the main stadium in Bangui. They jumped out of two pickup trucks, the Muslim vigilantes did, wearing T-shirts bearing the pope’s image as people cheered: “The conflict is over.” Think of that image.
The conflict in the CAR between Muslims and Christians, of course, is not over, but this image is a reminder of all that can unite us. The many ways we are similar.
I wish you a productive discussion for the remainder of the day. I am convinced that one day we can ensure that hate speech does not incite one more instance of violence, one more terrorist act.
Thank you especially to the Secretariat of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations for organizing this very important international dialogue.
MR. JEAN-PAUL LABORDE
COUNTER-TERRORISM EXECUTIVE DIRECTORATE (CTED)
I thank you for inviting me to take part in this timely discussion.
As the Assistant Secretary-General responsible for assessing and analysing Member States’ capacity to respond to terrorism and violent extremism, I welcome today’s very practical initiative which gives me the opportunity to share my perspectives on countering hate speech as an effective component of counter-terrorism efforts.
After the attacks witnessed last month, it is crucial that we develop actions to counter hate speech in the media. We cannot afford to go on as usual anymore.
With the speed at which information now circulates around the world, particularly through the Internet and social media, the many manifestations of hate speech are increasingly visible.
The intervention of Ms. Gallach, the Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information concerning the recent events in Central African Republic in the context of which a mass celebrated by Pope Francis was attended by Muslims, reminds us of the importance of messaging. I am grateful to Ms. Gallach for having reminded us of this key element. I would like to add that during his trip, the Pope also participated in a ceremony at a mosque in Bangui, an important reminder of the powerful impact gestures of reciprocity can have.
The unprecedented flow of refugees fleeing conflicts and acts of terrorism have given rise to contemporary forms of hate speech that exacerbate the conditions conducive to terrorist acts.
According to a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, hate speech propagated by terrorists has been at a record high in the last few years.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim rights organization in the US, has just released an initial report on the rising discrimination targeting the US Muslim community since the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.
These are very worrying developments.
Videos, articles, blogs and messages that promote terrorism, intolerance, racism, discrimination and xenophobia continue to proliferate.
And yet, by closing down such channels of communication, we threaten to undermine one of our most cherished rights: the right to freedom of expression.
However, this is not always such a simple task. The recent case of Charlie Hebdo highlights the very sensitive issues we must address in this regard. On the one hand, our immediate inclination is to want to defend the freedom of expression of all voices, especially the media, for the suppression of dissenting voices, however uncomfortable they make us feel, is the beginning of a slippery slope towards repressive politics and repressive regimes.
On the other hand, the content of what is said can genuinely offend some members of the community and their concerns must also be addressed. So what are our options in how to address this conundrum? Is censorship the only reasonable response we have? Maybe engaging in an open discussion with the communities that have been offended and listening to their concerns is the start of a different approach. Perhaps it is a discriminatory approach to the protection of the freedom of expression that is at the root of their concern. Finding ways to ensure that all communities are treated equally could be a possible response to the problem, than turning to restrictions against the freedom of expression.
Furthermore, finding ways to promote mutual understanding and respect rather than intolerance is a constructive way to challenge some of the narrative tropes of terrorists. At a recent open meeting of the Counter Terrorism Committee, we heard from various research partners that the “clash of civilizations” is the narrative upon which the terrorist strategy essentially thrives.
This false narrative helps spread a sense of chaos and fear among populations all over the world and also helps attract new terrorist recruits: often vulnerable young people who are led to believe that their choice is to be either “with” their Governments or “with” the terrorists.
Evidence presented by several research analysts has shown that for terrorist organizations such as Daesh, the polarisation of society in the West, as well as in the countries where they operate, is an essential part of their strategy to establish a so-called Islamic Caliphate all over the world. In documents used to radicalize and recruit people, particularly young people, they claim that reducing the interaction between cultures and the ability of different cultures to coexist is an important step towards polarization. They call this ‘eliminating the grey zone’ and encourage their supporters to live lives that are completely separate from others.
Our strategic response must therefore be to robustly defend this ‘grey zone,’ and make sure that all voices are heard, including those that criticise Government policies and actions.
As noted recently by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, disproportionate measures aimed at silencing political criticism and legitimate forms of expression can only make the problem worse.
The Special Rapporteur goes on to say that although offensive narratives and beliefs must be tackled head-on, doing so through repressive measures is often misguided.
The efforts of our criminal justice systems to stop hate speech must therefore be combined with other initiatives, as part of a comprehensive approach.
If the question is whether we should criminalize hate speech, the answer is of course, “yes”.
However, we should be aware that all messages posted in the media cannot be prosecuted. The criminal justice system would never be able to absorb all consequent trials. Hence we need to rely on private companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter who have already take action to suppress hate messages posted on their own platforms.
Of course, the incitement of terrorist attacks and acts connected to violent extremism should be adjudicated and severely condemned by the criminal justice system. These condemnations should serve as examples in order to demonstrate that impunity does not exist when a terrorist act is committed.
We must also criminalize hate speech in a manner that contributes to our overall objective: to curb, contain and end the spread of terrorism. The promotion and protection of the freedom of expression must therefore go hand in hand with efforts to combat the conditions conducive to terrorism which include intolerance and discrimination.
The evidence shows that what attracts young persons to terrorist activities differs according to the context. We must therefore ensure that our efforts are tailored to each context. Otherwise, they may prove counterproductive.
So, in considering the right criminal justice approach to hate speech, perhaps the right question to ask is, “How will criminalizing hate speech impact the spread of terrorism?
But we must be able to answer that a particular law or measure offers the correct response in the context of the jurisdiction in question.
Until then, more evidence-based research and policy analysis is needed.
We can of course also turn to international human rights law to help guide us.
For example: article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides a three-part test to assess whether limitation on the freedom of expression has merits under the Covenant (which has been ratified by 168 Member States):
1) the restriction must be provided by law, which must be clear, unambiguous, precisely worded and accessible to the public;
2) the restriction must be proven by the State to be necessary for the protection of the rights and reputation of others, or the protection of national security or public order;
3) the restriction must be proven by the State to be the least restrictive and proportionate means through which to achieve the aims of protecting the rights of others, national security or public order.
I believe that we all share the same vision.
We seek a world free from terrorism: a peaceful world in which people of all cultures and faiths can live together in safety and those fleeing persecution and hatred are welcomed as valuable newcomers into our societies.
I have no doubt that we can achieve this if we adopt the right legal and other approaches to dealing with the phenomenon of hate speech, and of our approaches are grounded in international law and the rule of law.
Overreaction to messages that are critical of State practices or even offensive to the practices of those we seek to protect will only erode that precious “grey space” in which informed dialogue can take place and effective counter-narratives can flourish.
Only by protecting that space and having that dialogue shall we achieve our common goals.
Let’s maintain our focus and work together as an international community composed of all stakeholders – United Nations entities, Member States, the private sector, and civil society – to make this happen.
Finally, let me thank again His Excellency Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High-Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, for having organized this symposium which is an additional evidence of the commitment of the his organization to work jointly and in a concrete manner, with its close partners.