The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) marked 21 March, the International Day for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, with the publication of its general policy recommendations on combating hate speech.
The 65-page document sets out 10 key policy recommendations for combating hate speech, which is defined in the report as:
The advocacy, promotion or incitement of the denigration, hatred or vilification of a person or group of persons, as well any harassment, insult, negative stereotyping, stigmatization or threat of such person or persons and any justification of all these forms of expression – that is based on a non-exhaustive list of personal characteristics or status that includes “race”, colour, language, religion or belief, nationality or national or ethnic origin, as well as descent, age, disability, sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.
The 10 policy recommendations form a comprehensive set of measures to be considered by Council of Europe member states, including support for research into hate speech and civic efforts to counter it, raising awareness about the issue of hate speech and how it affects society, dropping of public funding for bodies engaging in hate speech, the clarification of current antidiscrimination laws, and the proper implementation of Council of Europe conventions and international agreements including the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland emphasised that efforts to counter hate speech must go hand in hand with the protection of freedom of speech, specifically warning against selective and arbitrary application of sanctions: “Anti-hate speech measures must be well-founded, proportionate, non-discriminatory, and must not be used to curb freedoms of expression or assembly,” he said. Jagland stressed that fighting hate speech must not be used to suppress criticism of official policies, political opposition and religious beliefs.
ECRI’s Chair Christian Ahlund highlighted the many stakeholders that must act to prevent and counter hate speech in European society. “Politicians, religious and community leaders have a crucial role to play – not only should they avoid using hate speech in public discourse, but they should also pro-actively counter it in their public statements,” he said. “States should also provide practical support to those targeted by hate speech: they should be made aware of their rights, receive legal and psychological assistance, be encouraged to report the use of hate speech and to bring proceedings to court, with the assistance of equality bodies and non-governmental organisations.”
The policy recommendations were influenced by feedback from the follow-up group for the Council of Europe’s “No Hate Speech Movement” campaign, which includes several representatives of UNITED network organisations, and UNITED’s delegate Sergio Belfor. This campaign represents a key part of the Council of Europe’s strategy to counter hate speech, and UNITED has played a key role in the campaign since its inception. UNITED representatives on the Council of Europe’s Advisory Council on Youth were vital to the establishment of the project, which was partly inspired by UNITED’s 2012 study session “Step In! Be active against racist propaganda and hate speech online”. Since then, UNITED representatives have taken key roles in coordinating the campaign, and many NHSM activists have also taken part in UNITED campaigns and conferences. UNITED organised a further CoE study session on the topic, “(Re)Act for equal opportunities online and offline” in Strasbourg in 2015.
ECRI is a human rights body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts, which monitors problems of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination on grounds such as “race”, national/ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion and language; it prepares reports and issues recommendations to member states. As well as its general policy recommendations on combating hate speech, ECRI recently published country reports on France, Georgia and Monaco.
In its report on France, ECRI expressed concern over the high level of under-reporting of racist crime, the cuts in budgets earmarked for integration policies and the remaining gaps in the criminal-law provisions relating to hate speech. The report on Georgia highlighted the fact that, despite certain progress achieved by Georgia on anti-discrimination policies and legislation, hate speech and violence against some ethnic and religious minorities, as well as LGBT persons have increased over the past years. Its report on Monaco showed that gaps in the law remain, such as the fact that some racist and homo/transphobic acts are not expressly punishable or the fact that Monegasque law contains neither a general prohibition of discrimination nor the key components of anti-discrimination legislation.