Ambassador Geir O. Pedersen holding his welcoming remarks. 
Photo: Kjersti Mosli .Ambassador Geir O. Pedersen holding his welcoming remarks. Photo: Kjersti Mosli

Hate speech and incitement to genocide

2/1/2013 // “We need to fight the root causes of hate speech – racism and discrimination”, Ambassador Geir O. Pedersen said in his welcoming remarks on a panel discussion on how hate speech can be an incitement to violence and genocide. The balance between upholding the principle of freedom of expression and not allowing for hate speech resulting in hatred and violence was a key issue in the debate.

The UN special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank LaRue presented the results of their latest report. Ambassador Pedersen thanked LaRue for his work on promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. In the report LaRue focuses on expressions that do not give rise to criminal or civil sanctions, but still raise concern in terms of tolerance, civility and respect for others.

The powerfulness of speech was addressed by several of the panelist. Speech can be a powerful tool for collective action, including violence, Susan Benech, genocide prevention fellow, said. UN special adviser on the prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, said that people have to be careful with the language they use. “Language and stereotypes can kill”, he stated.

The responsibility of the state in relation to hate speech was debated. The importance of freedom of expression as a global open principle was emphasized by the panelists. LaRue pointed out that the state has an obligation to protect people from harm, but not from offence.

Aidan White, from the ethical journalism network, talked about the importance of journalistic work to avoid hate speech leading to hatred and violence. He said that good journalism is not just about giving facts. It’s about providing context, analysis and informed commentary so that people can take informed decisions.

Ambassador Pedersen, highlighted that debate, such as the one they all participated in, may help in exploring that fine balance between combating hate speech without curtailing the freedom of expression.

Read LaRue`s report here. Watch the panel discussion here.

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