We Must All Do Better at Looking Out for Each Other, Secretary-General Stresses while Launching United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech

SG/SM/19627
18 June 2019

We Must All Do Better at Looking Out for Each Other, Secretary-General Stresses while Launching United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the launch of the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, in New York today:

Thank you for being here today to mark the launch of the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech.

This Strategy and Plan of Action are brand new, but they are rooted in our oldest commitment.  Respect for human rights — without discrimination based on race, sex, language or religion — is a thread running through the United Nations Charter.  When the Charter was drafted, the world had just witnessed genocide on an industrial scale.  Hate speech had sown the seeds, building on millennia of scapegoating and discrimination against the Jews, and culminating in the Holocaust.

Seventy-five years on, we are in danger of forgetting this lesson.  Around the world, we see a groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance, violent misogyny, and also anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.  In some places, Christian communities are attacked.  Hateful and destructive views are enabled and amplified exponentially through digital technology, often targeting women, minorities and the most vulnerable.  Extremists gather online and radicalize new recruits.  In both liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes, some political leaders are bringing the hate-fuelled ideas and language of these groups into the mainstream, normalizing them, coarsening the public discourse and weakening the social fabric.

Hate speech is in itself an attack on tolerance, inclusion, diversity and the very essence of our human rights norms and principles.  More broadly, it undermines social cohesion, erodes shared values, and can lay the foundation for violence, setting back the cause of peace, stability, sustainable development and the fulfilment of human rights for all.

Over the past 75 years, hate speech has been a precursor to atrocity crimes, including genocide, from Rwanda to Bosnia [and Herzegovina] to Cambodia.  More recently, it has been strongly linked with violence and killings in several regions of the world, including Sri Lanka, New Zealand and here in the United States.  Governments and technology companies alike are struggling to prevent and respond to orchestrated online hate.

As new channels for hate speech are reaching wider audiences than ever at lightning speed, we all — the United Nations, Governments, technology companies, educational institutions — need to step up our response.  The United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action we are launching today is an ambitious programme to coordinate efforts across the United Nations system to identify, prevent and confront hate speech, using all the means in our power.  The United Nations System-Wide Strategy and Plan of Action has two overriding objectives.

First, it aims to enhance our efforts to address the root causes of hate speech, in line with my prevention vision.  These root causes include violence, marginalization, discrimination, poverty, exclusion, inequality, lack of basic education, and weak State institutions.  We are addressing many of these issues as we support Governments in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  But, this new Strategy goes further, recommending a coordinated response, including efforts to identify those who engage in hate speech and those who are best placed to challenge it.  The Strategy promotes education as a preventive tool that can raise awareness and bring about a shared sense of common purpose to address the seeds of hatred.

The second overriding objective is to enable the United Nations to respond effectively to the impact of hate speech on societies.  The recommendations include convening individuals and groups with opposing views; working with traditional and social media platforms; engaging in advocacy; and developing guidance for communications to counter hate speech trends and campaigns.  While digital technology has provided new areas in which hate speech can thrive, it can also help to monitor activity, target our response and build support for counternarratives.

The recent emergence of volunteer groups that are organizing to counter harassment and hate online shows the potential for collaboration.  The proposals set out last week by the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation can play a part.  New forms of self-policing by social media platforms, and the commitments included in the Christchurch Call, are another welcome development.

Our Action Plan goes beyond New York; it includes ways in which country teams and missions around the world can take action to defend the truth and counter hate speech.  And it goes beyond the United Nations; it must engage Governments, civil society, the private sector and other partners.

United Nations agencies and offices have pledged to enhance their cooperation based on the commitments set out in the Strategy.  I have also asked them to prepare their own plans, aligned with this Strategy and in coordination with my Special Envoy for the Prevention of Genocide.  I urge Member States and all partners to support the Special Envoy, who will be the focal point for implementing and coordinating the Plan of Action.  To follow up on this launch, I intend to convene a conference on the role of education in addressing and building resilience against hate speech.  I count on the support of Member States.

Addressing hate speech should never be confused with suppressing freedom of expression.  The United Nations supports all human rights, including the freedom to seek, receive and spread information and ideas of all kinds, as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech.  It means keeping hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, which is prohibited under international law.  We should treat it like any other malicious act:  by condemning it unconditionally; refusing to amplify it; countering it with the truth; and encouraging the perpetrators to change their behaviour.

This will not only prevent it from escalating; it will support progress across our entire agenda, from preventing conflict and terrorism, to ending violence against women and other serious violations of human rights, to building peaceful and resilient societies.  Hate speech may have gained a foothold.  But, it is now on notice, and we will never stop confronting it.

As we see time and again, people everywhere value their common humanity and want to help each other out in a crisis.  In Christchurch, people ferried the injured to hospital in their own cars before ambulances could reach them.  In Sri Lanka, the Muslim Council called on the faithful to help the Christian brothers and sisters affected by the Easter Sunday bombings.  In Pittsburgh, members of the Muslim community organized to help the victims and survivors of the United States’ worst anti-Semitic attack.

We all need to do better at looking out for each other.  This Strategy sets out how we, the United Nations, can play our part.  Thank you for your engagement and support.

For information media. Not an official record.