REMARKS OF H.E. MR. NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER
High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
At the EU-UNAOC Symposium
on Hate Speech Against Migrants and Refugees in the Media
Brussels, 26 January 2017
Your Excellency, Mr. Christian Leffler
Deputy Secretary General for Economic & Global Issues, EEAS
Your Excellency, MS.Cecile Kyenge,
Member of the European Parliament,
Mr. Jonas Jonsson, EEAS
Ladies and Gentleman,
Let me begin by expressing my appreciation to Ms. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission, and Ms. Helga Schmid, Secretary General of the European External Action Service for their support for our Hate Speech Project. Organizing this symposium jointly could not have been more timely.
2016 has been an elections year in many countries. Media, for better or for worse was used as a tool shaping people’s perceptions around issues and swaying their votes accordingly. The migrants and refugees crisis featured prominently in the campaigns and public discussions. We noted solidarity towards refugees . But we have also witnessed a surge of xenophobic hate speech. With the knowledge that further elections will be taking place in Europe this year, the series of discussions we will be having today in Brussels remain topical.
Today, we are gathered to discuss hate speech in the media, and its impact on migrant and refugee communities.
The mass influx of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other countries into Europe has resulted in fueling fears, prejudices and even hatred against those who are perceived as “the other” by local populations. ; These distorted perceptions have led, in some tragic cases, to violent reactions within host societies.
With the refugee crisis in Europe, the impact of mass movements of people is more pronounced today than at any time since the end of WWII. Migration has presented European societies with major challenges: many countries in the region are becoming more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual. Increasingly, refugees and migrants are seen as an economic threat and associated with fears of terrorist attacks.
The world today is more complex, more interdependent and more interconnected than ever before. International migration and development are closely interlinked. Migrants provide positive contributions to sustainable and inclusive development worldwide. In September 2015, Member States agreed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and highlighted the positive role of migration, pointing the way forward for the work we are doing today.
There is now a better understanding of the role of migration for sustainable development. There is also a growing recognition that migration has a rightful place as a top priority in UN deliberations and work as the High Level Summit on refugees and migrants held on 19 September 2016 have proved.
Last year, through the adoption of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, Heads of State and Government and High Representatives, proclaimed: “Diversity enriches every society and contributes to social cohesion. Gathered today at the United Nations, the birthplace and custodian of these universal values, we deplore all manifestations of xenophobia, racial discrimination and intolerance. We will take a range of steps to counter such attitudes and behavior, in particular hate crimes, hate speech.”
At the same time, an increasing number of populist politicians are targeting these migrant and refugee communities, and anti-immigrant political candidates and extreme nationalist movements are rising in popularity. Behind that phenomenon is fear. Fear that national identities are being diluted by growing diversity.
Hate speech and discrimination towards migrants and refugees are rooted in xenophobia. In the current climate of fear and suspicion that grips communities throughout the world, we must join our efforts towards breaking down the fears of the people in receiving societies and changing their perceptions of migrants and refugees. This begins by breaking the stereotypes on migrants and refugees that fuel racism and xenophobia.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations has, throughout its history, worked on combating xenophobia and promoting social inclusion of migrants. In December 2015, we launched the #Spread no Hate initiative, which aims at countering hate speech and xenophobic narratives in the media in order to promote social inclusion of migrants in host societies. Our activity has continued, most recently including a side event on the margins of the 71st session of the General Assembly on “Combating xenophobic language in the media and fostering inclusive integration of migrants and refugees”.
I believe that it is equally important to implement a communications strategy that includes: Streamlining social media messaging and reinforcing positive narratives on migrants; Adopting an agile approach to countering misinformation about refugees and migrants; Explaining long-term benefits of social inclusion and integrations; and Encouraging social media users to call out hateful rhetoric and negative stereotypes of refugees and migrants. The United Nations global campaign against racism and xenophobia, “Together: respect, safety and dignity for all” works in that way – aiming to change negative perceptions and attitudes towards refugees and migrants, and to strengthen the social contract between these populations and host communities.
The media constitutes a fundamental force that shapes mindsets. Its potential to help prevent and moderate tensions needs to be emphasized and encouraged. As shapers of public opinion, the media have a special responsibility to promote understanding among cultures and mutual respect of differing religious beliefs and traditions.
Freedom of expression is a human right enshrined in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, hate speech is blatant violation of that freedom when used irresponsibly.
Last year’s intensity in hate speech incidents led to increased questioning of the role of governments, civil society, technology companies, and social media in addressing hate. It also calls into question how best to achieve this objective while at the same time protecting our crucial right to free expression.
In partnership with the European Union, we’ve designed a solid agenda for today to address the many facets of hate speech, from an exploration of the rise of populism and the role of the media, to an examination of the triggers and mechanisms of Hate Speech against migrants and refugees. We will also discuss the role of Internet intermediaries, as well as how to best promote ethical journalism and partnerships between the media and civil society.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Everyone, everywhere, must stand up against the animosity that so many refugees, migrants and minority communities face. We invite you to do so by joining the discussion online today by using the hashtag #SpreadNoHate.
Let’s work together to turn fear into hope.
I wish you fruitful and interesting discussions and thank you for your participation.