The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan organised a series of six webinars from 17-19 March 2021 on “Nurturing Peaceful, Respectful and Inclusive Societies in Pakistan: Seerat counters hate speech through decisive action”. The webinars provided an opportunity to focus on the role of education to combat hate speech and foster peace and inclusivity in Pakistan, using the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes, and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, in particular Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education and Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions as main policy frameworks.
Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Ms. Alice Warimu Nderitu, stressed that societies that accepted diversity and considered it as an asset, fostering inclusivity of all groups without discrimination, were more likely to be peaceful and stable from a human, social and economic perspective. She added that despite efforts made by many countries to achieve Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, the growing phenomenon of hate speech, including online, was threatening progress made in advancing peace and inclusivity globally. Emphasizing that the COVID-19 pandemic had compounded hate speech trends, the Special Adviser highlighted that too many times, minority groups or those who were perceived to be different were the targets and victims of hate speech and were scapegoated for challenges faced by communities or countries. Hate speech had also the potential to exacerbate underlying social and economic inequalities, aggravate drivers of violence, undermine social cohesion, trigger social unrest and violence and even be an indicator of the risk of atrocity crimes, she continued. Referring to the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, the Special Adviser Nderitu emphasized that combating hate speech was a multi-stakeholders endeavour. Governments, in particular, have an obligation to protect minorities.
The President of Pakistan, His Excellency Mr. Arif Alvi, opened the webinar stressing the importance of using forgiveness as a framework for building human relationships and continuing fighting for the equality of all human beings, independently on any identity factors. He also stated that hate speech should have no standing in Pakistan and that laws isolating communities ought to be repealled.
Speakers included national and international experts, practitioners and academic, as well as representatives of ethnic and religious minorities including Ba’hais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus Kalasha, Parsis and Sikhs. The webinar also had a strong focus on Pakistani youth as agents of positive transformation to create and sustain real models of inclusive, peaceful, and respectful societies. A special role was played by women and young women, who represented most of the speakers. Special Adviser Nderitu called the Pakistani youth to be humanist, stand up against discrimination and hate, build inclusion, and embrace education and knowledge.
Ms. Nderitu announced that the series of webinars would result in a manual to counter hate speech and build peaceful and inclusive societies and pledged continued support to the Higher Education Commission to counter and adress hate speech and foster human dignity.
The virtual event was attended by some 200 people, including university students and faculty members from public and private universities in Pakistan.
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