Secretary-General António Guterres’s remarks at press encounter at launch of United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech
New York, 18 June 2019
Secretary-General: Good afternoon.
Hate speech is a direct assault on our core values of tolerance, inclusion and respect for human rights and human dignity. It sets groups against each other, contributes to violence and conflict, and undermines all our efforts for peace, stability and sustainable development. As such, addressing it is a priority for the entire United Nations system.
Around the world, we see a groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance, violent misogyny, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred. In some parts of the world, Christian communities are also under attack. While hate speech has always existed, the new element today is digital communications and specifically, social media platforms. They are making hate speech more virulent than ever, amplifying it and enabling it to move farther and faster.
Hate-filled content is reaching new audiences at lightning speed and has been linked with violence and killings from Sri Lanka to New Zealand and the United States. It is also used by extremist groups to recruit and radicalize people online.
Political leaders in some countries are adopting the slogans and ideas of these groups, demonizing the vulnerable and weakening the standards of decency in public discourse that have served us for decades.
In the face of this, we all – the United Nations, governments, the private sector, academia, civil society, the international community as a whole – need to step up. That is why I asked my Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to prepare the Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech we are launching today in cooperation with a large number of UN entities.
This strategy aims to coordinate our efforts across the whole United Nations system, addressing the root causes of hate speech, and making our response more effective.
Many of our programmes to support implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are already tackling hate speech, by promoting gender equality and human rights, and addressing discrimination of all kinds. But we need to speed up, strengthen and expand the reach of these activities, focused around a defined strategy so that they are as coordinated and as effective as possible.
The strategy includes actions for offices both at headquarters and in the field, and at national and global level. I have asked United Nations agencies and offices to prepare their own plans, aligned with this Strategy and in coordination with my Special Envoy for the Prevention of Genocide.
Ladies and gentlemen of the media,
I would like to mention one aspect of this strategy that is particularly relevant to you.
All action aimed at addressing and confronting hate speech must be consistent with fundamental human rights.
The United Nations supports freedom of expression and opinion everywhere.
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 need to treat hate speech as we treat every malicious act: by condemning it, refusing to amplify it, countering it with the truth, and encouraging the perpetrators to change their behaviour.
This is clearly not something we can do alone.
We are counting on the support of governments, civil society, the private sector and in particular, you, the members of the media.
Because tackling the poison of hate speech is everybody’s responsibility.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Thank you. Pam?
Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary‑General, Under‑Secretary‑General. It’s Pamela Falk from CBS News. Mr. Secretary‑General, in your talk, you said liberal democracies… some liberal democracies are bringing hate‑fueled ideas to the public discourse and weakening the social fabric. Can you elaborate on which liberal democracies or name a few and say why it’s happening now? Something must have sparked it – gaps in education?
Secretary-General: I didn’t mention only liberal democracies. I said that, unfortunately, both in liberal democracies and in authoritarian regimes, we see some political leaders, to a certain extent, mainstreaming what has been, until now, particularly the expression of extremist groups and, with that, undermining the social cohesion of their societies. And I believe that we have seen it in some recent electoral campaigns.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Thank you.
Question: Mr. Secretary‑General, first, what’s your comment on the death of the former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi? And, on the situation in Idlib, how do you see the situation there? What’s your message? Do you think that the Turkish‑Russian agreement is still hold and still enough to keep people safe? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Well, I thank you very much for your questions and, in particular, for the question about Idlib. I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib, and the situation is especially dangerous, given the involvement of an increased number of actors. Yet again, civilians are paying a horrific price. And let me underscore that, even in the fight against terrorism, there needs to be full compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.
I appeal in particular to the Astana guarantors — and to the Russian Federation and Turkey, especially, as the signatories of the September 2018 Memorandum of Understanding on Idleb — to stabilize the situation without delay.
As I have said repeatedly, there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. It was clear at the start and it remains clear more than eight years later that the solution must be political.
In relation to the first question you have asked, the Human Rights High Commissioner has already today the occasion to pronounce herself.
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. My name is Majeed Gly, Rudaw Media Network. Mr. Secretary‑General, I would like to start my question by showing you the picture of a victim of a hate crime, of a new wave under‑reported hate crime, from Iraq, from the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Her name is Lamia Salah. Her and her family, after the liberation and the end of ISIS in Iraq, has been under constant threat and harassment, just because she’s a Sunni, she’s a Kurd, by sectarian militias in a systematic attempt to change a demography of Iraq in the post‑conflict that we see now. Are you concerned that the same hate speech, sectarianism, that led to the emergence of ISIS that will help to re‑emerge the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world?
Secretary-General: Well, I’m not in a position to particularly mention any individual case that I do not know, but it is clear that, in several situations around the world, we have seen, in the past, hate speech be an instrument of ethnic cleansing ‑‑ look at Myanmar ‑‑ or of genocide; look at Rwanda. So, indeed, hate speech can have consequences that go far beyond the dramatic limitation of human rights of small groups or communities. Hate speech can be a trigger of some of the worst crimes that humanity has seen.
Question: [Off mic] In a post‑conflict, post‑ISIS, liberated areas in Iraq, do you have any conf… comments… [Cross talk]
Secretary-General: No, it is absolutely essential in those areas that are liberated to promote the conditions for social cohesion, to promote the dialogue among different communities, to make sure that each community feels that their rights are respected but that they belong to the nation as a whole.
Question: James Bays, Al Jazeera. First, on hate speech, you mentioned political leaders encouraging hate speech. You’re not being specific. Would it not have more impact if you were to name and shame? Secondly, the situation in the Gulf, you said that tensions need to be reduced. The answer to that from President [Donald] Trump is to send 1,000 more troops. Do you think that is constructive?
Secretary-General: Well, in relation to hate speech, my objective today is not to name or shame any individual, because, unfortunately, we are dealing with something that has spread very widely, and I think we need to be conscious that we are facing a massive phenomenon, not just something that one or two persons are able to interpret. And, so, I think that, if I name and shame, the only thing that would be broadcasted would be the naming and shaming, and what I want is the substance of the issue to be dealt with. So, it’s a strategy that I have been applying and I intend to go on applying whenever it makes sense.
In relation to the Gulf, we are worried, as I said. It’s very important to avoid any escalation, and I strongly hope that the situation will be contained, because, as I said, and I repeat, the world does not really need a major confrontation in the Gulf.
Question: Mr. Secretary‑General, in terms of the prevalence of hate speech, you mentioned that, in Myanmar, it played a significant role in fomenting violence against the Rohingya. I was wondering in what other countries, for example Mali or Central African Republic, DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), where hate speech is playing a really significant role, or are there countries that you feel it’s very deadly versus… I mean, there are different levels of hate speech. So, really, the question is, where is it most significant?
Secretary-General: Well, in many of the conflict situations that we are witnessing in which we see community against community for ethnic or religious reasons, the truth is that hate speech usually plays a part. And, of course, the more a society is Internet‑connected, the more that kind of impact becomes dramatic.
Spokesman: Great. Thank you very much.
Secretary-General: Thank you.