June 18 marks the first International Day for Countering Hate Speech
Hate speech is on the rise
Today, for the first time, we mark International Day for Countering Hate Speech, which was introduced in July 2021 through resolution A/75/L.115 on “Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech” adopted by General Assembly.
The focus on hate speech as a global problem comes amid alarming trends of growing xenophobia, racism and intolerance, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred around the world. In 2019, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted these phenomena and launched the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech. The world observes that these concerns remain and grow today. The strategy recognizes that over the past 75 years, hate speech has been a precursor to atrocity crimes, including genocide, from Rwanda to Bosnia to Cambodia. This first UN system-wide policy initiative to tackle hate speech is aimed at complementing the efficient legal framework for addressing hate speech, xenophobia and discrimination and building on fight with discrimination and inequality.
One of the main human rights instruments in this area is the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that understands racist hate speech as ‘a form of other-directed speech which rejects the core human rights principles of human dignity and equality and seeks to degrade the standing of individuals and groups in the estimation of society.” It was adopted in 1965 but, more than half a century after, hate speech remains a significant social phenomenon that has devastating long term effect on global peace, security and human rights.
The devastating effect of hate speech and hatred is being observed by the whole world today. Its scale and impact are amplified by new technologies of communication, global crises like pandemic and instability. The point is getting clearer that hate speech, including online, has become one of the most frequent methods for spreading divisive rhetoric and ideologies on a global scale and threatening peace. Dangerous, hateful propaganda and cyberbullying, as well as fake news that creates the image of an enemy, can provoke the worst of crimes. Here the special role is on the side of the private sector, the media, internet corporations, faith leaders, educators, in preventing bullying, cyberbullying and verbal violence on the Internet.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Belarus and MTS mobile network operator have been cooperating since 2018 to protect the rights of children and adolescents on the Internet and to fight cyberbullying.
According to a UNICEF study (2018), which involved more than one million young people in 160 countries around the world, up to 70.6% of Internet users aged 15-24 may be exposed to cyberbullying, harassment, and other threats.
In Belarus, 92.4% of children aged 6-17 use the Internet. 18.2% of high school students experienced cyberbullying and were affected by it.
Thanks to jointly implemented UNICEF projects aimed at raising digital literacy, more than 12,000 children, adolescents, parents and teachers benefited from educational and interactive events.
The world must not trample on freedom of speech and expression. When that speech is weaponized to violate the rights of others, including inciting atrocity crimes and acts of terrorism, it must not be met with deafening silence that implies apathy or acceptance. Even if hate speech is allowed under law—when it does not rise to the level of incitement of violence prohibited by international law—its consequences cannot be underestimated.
To observe the Day, the United Nations invites its partners, governments, civil society groups, and individuals to mobilize efforts and resources to implement strategies to identify, address and counter hate speech.
Anti-bullying workbook for children and teenagers "How to protect yourself from bullying on the Internet and not become haters yourself" can be downloaded from the MTS website.