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Hate Speech & the Importance of International Day for Countering Hate Speech

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Fahad Ali

In July 2021, the UN General Assembly drew attention to the escalating global issue of hate speech and the proliferation of hate speech worldwide. A resolution was approved on “promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech,” indicating a recognized concern over the need to combat discrimination, xenophobia, and hate speech in accordance with international human rights law.

The resolution was also designated 18 June as the International Day for Countering Hate Speech, aligning with the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, which was unveiled on 18 June 2019.

To commemorate this day, the United Nations encourages governments, international organizations, civil society groups, and individuals to organize events and initiatives aimed at promoting strategies to identify, address, and counter hate speech. This initiative represents a comprehensive framework through which the UN can provide support and complement the efforts of States in addressing hate speech. It emphasizes the collective responsibility of Member States, the private sector, media and internet corporations, faith leaders, educators, civil society actors, victims of hate speech, youth, and individuals to firmly denounce instances of hate speech and actively contribute to countering this detrimental phenomenon.

Hate speech refers to any form of communication that spreads hatred, discrimination, or prejudice against individuals or groups based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics. It can take various forms, including verbal, written, or symbolic expressions, and it often aims to dehumanize or marginalize targeted individuals or communities. This type of speech can have damaging effects on individuals and society as a whole, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and contributing to the erosion of social cohesion and mutual respect. It is important to address and counter hate speech through education, legal measures, and promoting understanding and tolerance among diverse communities.

Empowering the youth to combat hate speech is absolutely critical in today’s world, where they not only fall victim to hateful rhetoric but also possess influential voices within their communities. With approximately 1.2 billion young people globally, their role in detecting, raising awareness about, and countering hateful narratives cannot be overstated. As peers, they hold significant sway over each other and have the potential to drive meaningful change by speaking out against hate speech.

By involving youth leaders and equipping them with the necessary resources and platforms, we can tap into their energy and creativity to cultivate more inclusive and tolerant societies. There are numerous successful examples of youth-led initiatives in this context, demonstrating the potential for positive change when young individuals are empowered to take action against hate speech. The impact of hate speech overlaps with several areas of focus for the UN, including safeguarding human rights, preventing atrocities, promoting peace, achieving gender equality, and supporting children and youth.

The 3rd International Day for Countering Hate Speech serves as a reminder of the ongoing imperative to address this issue. It aligns with the five-year mark since the introduction of the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, emphasizing the sustained dedication to this cause.

In both online and offline spheres, youth are at the forefront of endeavours to combat hate speech. Their innovative approaches and readiness to confront challenging issues make them invaluable agents of change.

The destructive impact of hatred is, unfortunately, nothing new. However, its magnitude and repercussions are amplified in the present era by new communication technologies, to the extent that hate speech has become one of the most prevalent means for disseminating divisive rhetoric and ideologies worldwide. If allowed to persist unchecked, hate speech could even jeopardize peace and development, laying the groundwork for conflicts, tensions, and widespread human rights violations.

The United Nations has a longstanding history of rallying the world against all forms of hatred in defense of human rights and the advancement of the rule of law. The impact of hate speech overlaps with several areas of focus for the UN, from protecting human rights and preventing atrocities to sustaining peace, achieving gender equality, and supporting children and youth.

The Plan of Action defines hate speech as any form of communication in speech, writing, or behavior that attacks or employs pejorative or discriminatory language against a person or group based on their inherent characteristics, such as religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender, or other identity factors.

However, there is currently no universal definition of hate speech under international human rights law. The concept is still under discussion, particularly regarding freedom of opinion and expression, non-discrimination, and equality. While online hate speech may appear to be an unstoppable phenomenon, strategies are being deployed by governments, civil society, and individuals to combat it.

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