Interactive Dialogue with Rita Izsak, Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues
Delegation of the United States of America
28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
As Delivered by Leslie Marks
March 18, 2015 – Geneva
Thank you, Mr. President.
The United States thanks the Special Rapporteur on minority issues Rita Izsak for her report on “Hate speech and incitement to hatred against minorities in the media.”
We share the Special Rapporteur’s concerns regarding hate speech against any individual or group. Incidents of hate speech can serve as an early warning sign for potential violence or discrimination against particular groups of people.
We also recognize the important role that traditional and contemporary media play in shaping opinions and promoting societal discourse regarding minorities.
However, we disagree with the Special Rapporteur’s focus on legislation prohibiting any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Unfortunately, legal prohibitions on incitement are often used to persecute members of minority groups and political opponents, raising serious freedom of expression concerns.
Such laws, including blasphemy laws, tend to reinforce divisions rather than promote societal harmony. The presence of these laws has little discernable effect on reducing actual incidences of hate speech. In some cases such laws actually serve to foment violence against members of minority groups accused of expressing unpopular viewpoints.
In addition, legal prohibitions can displace societal efforts to combat intolerance. This occurs because disputes over hate speech are then seen as matters for courts to decide rather than society at large.
Combating hate speech requires a change in the societal attitudes that give rise to discriminatory views. Prohibiting speech is a poor, if not counterproductive, means of achieving that goal.
There are more effective means, some of which are highlighted in the Special Rapporteur’s report and also called for in HRC Resolution 16/18. These include education initiatives, promoting diverse and pluralistic media, having political and social leaders speak out against intolerance, and encouraging civil society initiatives to combat hate speech and intolerance. They also include enforcing anti-discrimination laws, training government officials to engage effectively with minority communities, and promoting interethnic, intercultural and interreligious dialogue.
As Special Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt and others have emphasized, the best response to hate speech is alternative speech. We welcome the efforts of the Special Rapporteur to promote these productive means of combating hate speech and incitement to hatred.
Madame Rapporteur, in your research, what civil society initiatives have you found to have been most effective in promoting tolerance and pluralism through traditional and contemporary media?