Photo: NorwayUN/Marte Fløan Beisvåg.Photo: NorwayUN/Marte Fløan Beisvåg

Opening Statement at the Trygve Lie Symposium

Last updated: 9/30/2013 // This statement was held by Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide at the opening of this year's Trygve Lie Symposium, "Combating Hate Speech: Everyone's Responsibility" on September 26.

Dear Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Trygve Lie Symposium. This year, the Symposium is putting one of the important challenges of our time on the agenda, namely, how can we combat hate speech? This is a challenge that confronts us all, and one which we all have a responsibility to address.

Let me start with an example from my own country. For two consecutive summers we have witnessed a heated debate in Norway over one European minority group, namely the Roma people. There are very few Roma people living in Norway, but in the summertime a few thousand tend to visit. However, even in our rich and democratic society, people were tempted to express themselves in the debate in a way that I would characterise as hate speech, and even as an attack on a minority.

Most countries in Europe are facing challenges involving the Roma people and other minorities. In the rest of the world we know that other minorities are coming under pressure.

Hate speech is nothing new. But greater access to the Internet and increased use of social media are making hate speech more visible and easier to spread.

Hate speech varies in intensity and is targeted at different groups, for example the Roma people, immigrants, persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. In Europe, we have seen how a group that includes more than half the population – namely women – is often subjected to this kind of harassment. This is particularly the case for women who take part in the public debate. My impression is that hate speech against women is often overlooked.

Hate speech constitutes a double threat: on the one hand it is a threat to human dignity and individual security; and on the other it is a threat to society as a whole. Hate speech discourages people from taking part in the public debate. It fuels intolerance. And in the most extreme cases, it incites violence. This became evident in my own country, Norway, on 22 July 2011.

I would like to take this as the background for today’s debate and how we can jointly find new ways to combat hate speech.

The limits to freedom of speech
Combating hate speech presents us with a difficult dilemma.

Freedom of expression includes the right to make statements that could offend, shock or disturb. But freedom of speech does not include the right to harass, threaten or persecute others. Striking this balance between lawful and unlawful expressions is a difficult task. Hence, we must continuously discuss where to draw the line.

In my view, the threshold for limiting freedom of speech should be very high. The right to freedom of expression can and should be restricted only in extreme cases, such as incitement to hatred and violence.

Suppressing one of our most fundamental freedoms is not the best way of responding to hate speech. On the contrary: the best way to answer hate speech is through more speech.

How can we jointly combat hate speech?
We need to identify other ways of combating hate speech. What tools do we have at hand? What is our collective responsibility? In short, what can each of us do?

As foreign minister, I can make sure that the issue of hate speech has a prominent place on the international agenda. I can work to broaden the global commitment to combating hate speech through my dialogue with international colleagues, in my speeches, in debates, and through my active engagement on Twitter and other social media platforms. I can promote the exchange of information and contribute to policy development.

As a public figure and a politician, I can speak out against manifestations of intolerance. I can also refrain from making discriminatory statements myself, and in so doing lead by example.

Other key actors, such as journalists, editors, social media providers, bloggers and civil society organisations, must find their own approaches and responses.

The purpose of this symposium is to provide a forum for discussion and to generate concrete ideas on how we can combat hate speech.

I am therefore pleased to welcome such a distinguished set of panellists. They include a cross-section of civil society activists, media representatives, experts and government representatives at the highest level, and are imminently qualified to discuss the issue at hand.

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