United Nations A/hrc/28/64

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United Nations


General Assembly

Distr.: General

5 January 2015

Original: English
Human Rights Council

Twenty-eight session

Agenda item 3

Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,

political, economic, social and cultural rights,

including the right to development

Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues,
Rita Izsák


The present report provides an update of the activities of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues during 2014. It includes a thematic discussion on “Hate speech and incitement to hatred against minorities in the media”. Media, in its diverse forms, is an essential component of today’s societies, providing huge benefits and possibilities, including in the field of minority issues. Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur highlights that media can also be misused as a platform for discrimination, exclusion and the incitement of hostility and violence against particular individuals and groups, through hate speech as well as xenophobic discourse.

The Special Rapporteur identifies and analyses factors that influence and perpetuate hate speech in the media. She urges States to adopt legislation prohibiting national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, in line with article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to put in place practical policy and programme measures to prevent hate speech from leading to hate crimes.


Paragraphs Page

I. Introduction 1–2 3

II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur 3–24 3

A. Country visits 3–5 3

B. Communications 6 4

C. Additional activities 7–22 4

D. Update on the Forum on Minority Issues 23–24 6

III. Hate speech and incitement to hatred against minorities in the media 25–50 6

A. Introduction 25–34 6

B. Examples 35–42 8

C. International legal framework 43–50 9

IV. Factors that lead to hate speech and incitement to hatred in the media 51–79 11

A. Absence of or unclear legislation on incitement to hatred 52–61 11

B. Negative/stereotyped portrayal of minority groups in the media 62–70 14

C. Structural inequalities 71–73 15

D. Changing media landscape 74–79 16

V. Good practices for addressing and responding to hate speech and
incitement to hatred in the media 80–100 17

A. Education and media literacy 81–84 17

B. Establishment of specialized institutions 85–86 18

C. Promotion of ethical standards, regulatory bodies and participation

of minorities in media outlets 87–93 18

D. Civil society initiatives to address online hate speech 94–100 19

VI. Conclusions and recommendations 101–117 20
I. Introduction

    1. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues was established by the Commission on Human Rights in resolution 2005/79, as an Independent Expert, and renewed by the Human Rights Council in resolutions 7/6 of 27 March 2008 and 16/6 of 24 March 2011. On 28 March 2014, the Council renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, in resolution 25/5. The current mandate holder assumed her functions on
      1 August 2011. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur is, inter alia, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, including through consultation with Governments.

    2. The present report covers the period from January to December 2014. Chapter II contains an overview of the Special Rapporteur’s activities during the reporting period. In chapters III and IV, the Special Rapporteur focuses on the thematic issue of hate speech and incitement to hatred against minorities in the media, and provides her conclusions and recommendations in chapter V.

II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur

A. Country visits

    1. The Special Rapporteur visited Nigeria from 17 to 28 February 2014. With over 350 ethnic groups and even more languages, harmonious and peaceful inter-ethnic relations prevail in most of the country. However, violent intercommunal clashes have affected the North and Middle Belt regions, with the underlying causes of the violence including poverty, good governance deficits, impunity and polarization of ethnic and religious characteristics. Minority communities in the Niger Delta suffer from dire environmental degradation owing to frequent oil spills. They have been deprived of their traditional livelihoods and face difficulties accessing basic services. Language issues include the decline of numerous mother-tongue languages. The report on the visit is contained in document A/HRC/28/64/Add.2.

    2. The Special Rapporteur visited Ukraine from 7 to 14 April 2014. Representatives of communities described a history of harmonious inter-ethnic and interfaith relations and a legislative, policy and social environment generally conducive to the protection of their rights, including cultural and linguistic rights. Nevertheless, minority issues became highly politicized as the situation of political and social unrest increased in 2014, particularly in the East, creating and widening fractures along national, ethnic and linguistic lines, and resulting in conflict. While challenges relating to minority issues include a lack of institutional attention to minority rights, she notes that minority rights have been inappropriately used to justify or support violent actions. The report on the visit is contained in document A/HRC/28/64/Add.1.

    3. The Special Rapporteur thanks the Governments of Nigeria and Ukraine for their cooperation during her visits to the respective countries, and the Governments of Botswana, Brazil and the Russian Federation, respectively, for agreeing to visits in 2015. She also thanks the Government of Belarus for extending an invitation to conduct an official visit. She urges other States to which she has requested invitations to respond positively to her requests.

B. Communications

    1. The Special Rapporteur received information from diverse sources about human rights violations perpetrated against national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. Based on that information, she sent communications in the form of letters of allegation and urgent action letters relating to minority issues to the Member States concerned – most jointly with other relevant mandates. Those communications and the responses from the Governments concerned are available to the public in the joint communications reports of the special procedures submitted to the Human Rights Council.1

C. Additional activities

Events, conferences and outreach

    1. On 16 and 17 January 2014, the Special Rapporteur participated in the second international colloquium on “Roma Segregated Housing as a Human Rights Challenge”, organized in Madrid by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Regional Office for Europe, and the Government of Spain.

    2. On 17 and 18 January 2014, she gave the keynote speech on “The rights and security of religious minorities” at the International Conference-Symposium on “Religious Liberty and Religious Minorities”, organized by the International Association for the Defence of Religious Liberty and Complutense University, in Madrid.

    3. On 5 February 2014, the Special Rapporteur delivered a lecture at the Central European University, in Budapest, on “The role of the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues”, as part of the course “Peoples’ Rights and Minority Rights”.

    4. From 4 to 6 March 2014, she participated in the first international meeting of “Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes” (GAAMAC), in San José, where she addressed the role of prevention through urgent and coordinated actions in the light of early-warning signs.

    5. On 26 March 2014, she gave a lecture at the Hungarian National Public Service University, in Budapest, on “The rights and challenges on Roma, possible policy responses and the role of the media”.

    6. On 12 May 2014, the Special Rapporteur delivered the 2014 annual Sabhal Mòr Ostaig lecture on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, in which she focused on the general United Nations framework for minority rights protection, with specific attention to the trends and concerns regarding linguistic minorities.

    7. On 17 June 2014, she participated in the side event on “Caste-based violence against women and girls”, organized by the International Dalit Solidarity Network, in Geneva. She discussed the role of special procedures in combating caste-based discrimination and violence.

    8. On 18 June 2014, the Special Rapporteur participated in a panel discussion on “Preventative tools of human rights mechanisms in Geneva – Part I: Special Procedures Mandate Holders”, organized by the Responsibility to Protect Core Group, in which she addressed how special procedures could help prevent human rights violations, particularly mass atrocity crimes, by identifying situations at risk.

    9. On 31 July and 1 August 2014, she participated in a conference in Krakow, Poland, organized by TernYpe International Roma Youth Network, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Roma Holocaust Day on 2 August.

    10. On 3 September 2014, she participated as a guest speaker in a seminar on “Incitement to hatred, xenophobia and related intolerance in cyberspace”, in Minsk, which was organized by OHCHR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus.

    11. On 18 September 2014, the Special Rapporteur participated as a panellist in the Human Rights Council panel discussion on “The role of prevention and protection of human rights”, in Geneva.

    12. On 24 September 2014, she participated as an expert in the round table on “Persons with albinism: violence, discrimination and way forward”, organized by OHCHR and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, in Geneva.

    13. On 23 October 2014, the non-governmental organization (NGO) Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief organized a discussion with the Special Rapporteurs on minority issues and on freedom of religion or belief, at the Bahá’í International Community New York Office.

    14. On 19 November 2014, she participated in the round table on “The role of education in the prevention of atrocity crimes” organized by the Central European University, in Budapest, and on 20 and 21 November, she spoke at the 7th Budapest Human Rights Forum.


    1. The Special Rapporteur issued public statements, many jointly with other mandates, highlighting issues of concern involving minorities,2 including: on 26 March 2014, calling on the Vietnamese authorities to intervene in a case of forced eviction of the last remaining residents of Con Dau, home to a small Catholic community; 7 April, on the human rights situation of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, raising the alarm on the further deterioration of their human rights situation; 8 April, marking International Roma Day, calling for inclusion of Roma in decision-making processes; 10 April, to the Cameroonian authorities regarding the eviction and demolition of houses of a Mbororo pastoralist community; 25 April, regarding the evacuation of religious minorities under threat in the Central African Republic; 19 May, expressing alarm to the Government of Sudan over the death sentence imposed on a pregnant Christian woman and urging the repeal of discriminatory legislation on the grounds of gender and religion; 21 May, to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran urging it to halt the execution of two Ahwazi Arab human rights activists.

    2. The Special Rapporteur, together with other mandate holders, issued joint statements: on 2 July 2014, urging the Government of Sri Lanka to take measures to stop racial and faith-based hatred and violence against Muslim and Christian communities; 23 July, calling on the Government of Nigeria to address the situation of over three million internally displaced persons; 25 July, regarding threats to several minority groups in Iraq by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); 31 July, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Roma Holocaust, calling on governments for stronger measures and initiatives to keep the memory of the Roma Holocaust alive; 12 August, warning of the danger of massacre of the Yazidi population in Northern Iraq by ISIL; 14 August, expressing concern over Pakistani asylum seekers in Sri Lanka being detained and forcefully deported to Pakistan without adequate assessment of their asylum claims; 5 December, regarding two grand jury decisions in the United States not to bring to trial the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, African-Americans killed by police.

D. Update on the Forum on Minority Issues

    1. The Special Rapporteur was requested, in resolution 25/5, to guide the work of the Forum on Minority Issues, prepare its annual meetings and report on its recommendations to the Human Rights Council. The seventh annual session of the Forum was held in Geneva, on 25 and 26 November 2014, with a thematic focus on preventing and addressing violence and atrocity crimes against minorities.

    2. Over 500 delegates participated, representing Member States from all regions, United Nations mechanisms, treaty bodies and specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations, regional organizations, national human rights institutions and NGOs and including academics and experts on minority issues. Issues addressed included understanding the root causes of violence; improving prevention of violence and atrocity crimes; essential measures for resolution, protection and security once violence has broken out; and avoiding renewed violence through peace-building and managing diversity. Interventions identified challenges involving minorities as well as solutions and effective practices for preventing and addressing violence. Three side events were organized in the margins of the Forum on related themes. Recommendations from the Forum will be presented to the Council at its twenty-eighth session.

III. Hate speech and incitement to hatred against minorities in the media

A. Introduction

    1. The Special Rapporteur is alarmed by the high number of complaints reaching her about hateful messages and incitement to hatred that have fuelled tensions and often led to hate crimes. In her 2014 report to the General Assembly (A/69/266), she focused on violence and atrocity crimes against minorities and listed cases of attacks against minority groups that she had brought to the attention of Member States concerned, either through communications (letters of allegation or urgent action letters) or public press releases. She believes that more should be done to monitor and react, in a timely manner, to hate speech and incitement to hatred and violence to prevent tensions and violence which damage the entire social fabric, unity and stability of societies. Tolerance and inaction reinforce the subordination of targeted minorities, making them more vulnerable to attacks, but also influencing majority populations and potentially making them more indifferent to the various manifestations of such hatred.

    2. Although not all hateful messages result in actual hate crimes, hate crimes rarely occur without prior stigmatization and dehumanization of targeted groups and incitement to hate incidents fuelled by religious or racial bias. Few countries collect data on hate crimes, their causes and victims that would enable policy-makers to better protect population groups at risk.

    3. In the United States, in 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Uniform Crime Reporting Program, recorded almost 6,000 hate crimes incidents: 48.5 per cent were racially motivated (66 per cent anti-Black, 21 per cent anti-White, 5 per cent anti-Asian, 4 per cent anti-American Indian or Alaska Native); 17.4 per cent were motivated by religious bias (59 per cent anti-Semitic, 14 per cent anti-Islamic, 6 per cent anti-Catholic); and 11.1 per cent stemmed from ethnicity bias (53 per cent anti-Hispanic or Latino biased).3

    4. In Europe, in 2008, the Fundamental Rights Agency conducted a survey of 23,500 respondents from ethnic minority and immigrant groups to assess how many had been victims of assault, threat or serious harassment with a perceived racist motive. The survey found that between 16 per cent and 32 per cent of Roma, and between 19 per cent and 32 per cent of persons of African origin reported being victims of racial discrimination. Another survey of 5,900 respondents in nine European Union Member States found that up to one third of Jewish people had experienced verbal abuse or physical anti-semitic violence.4 The Special Rapporteur considers that many incidents could be prevented with timely and appropriate responses to hateful messages, including through better representation and inclusion of minorities in mainstream communication platforms.

    5. No country or society is free from hatred and it is most often those belonging to national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities who are the targets of hate. But what are the causes of such hatred and how does it evolve from a thought or a viewpoint to infect a whole society or result in acts of violence? This is an essential question that we must become better at answering if we are to effectively confront hatred in all its forms.

    6. Hatred is often constructed, fuelled, maintained and directed by certain individuals or groups against other individuals and communities who are different, in ethnicity, language or religion from the dominant majority, often for political reasons or due to long-standing and entrenched discrimination. Hateful messages may fall on particularly fertile ground where there are wider social, economic or political problems or divisions in society. The root causes of hatred often lie beyond purely ethnic or religious difference.

    7. Hatred very often stems from wider societal shortcomings, including the lack of or unequal access to resources; partisan politics; corruption; deficits in good and inclusive governance; and the reality or perception of bias and favouritism along ethnic or religious lines, which can fuel distrust, suspicion and anger. It was found that where inclusive governance, equality and human rights prevail and communities have placed trust in their leadership, there were fewer communal fractures and concerns about minority rights.

    8. Governments, civil society and the international community must be alert to the warning signs of hatred and violence much earlier: when the first words of hate speech are uttered; when media start to promote negative stereotypes; or once there is an atmosphere of discomfort and animosity when minorities exercise their right to freely and openly practise their religion, use their language, or assert their right to have a voice in political life and the decisions that affect them.

    9. Many States continue to lack domestic anti-discrimination and anti-hate speech laws and, even where they exist, implementation of the law is often poor and court cases are rare. States must not make quick or easy assumptions that minorities feel secure because of constitutions and laws that codify minority rights on paper. It is essential that States find ways to understand the feelings and concerns of minorities and that the required institutional attention to minority issues and consultative bodies and processes is in place.

    10. The present thematic study provides an overview of the role of media in relation to hate speech and incitement to hatred and violence. It refers to the role of international standards and processes with regard to the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and will address the major challenges to combating hate speech in the media. Different measures and good practices that can be implemented by States and civil society actors will be analysed.

B. Examples

    1. There are numerous examples, both historical and present-day, of how media is used as a means of portraying minority groups in an offensive and stereotyped way and, in the most extreme cases, to directly incite violence. The Nazi regime used media for a massive propaganda campaign against Jews, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and others. A propaganda ministry controlled the media, exerting censorship on books and authors to suppress opposing viewpoints and to reinforce Nazi ideology of racial superiority and anti-Semitism. Jews were repeatedly portrayed as the cause of societal problems and dehumanized in the public discourse. Around six million Jews, as well as Roma and others were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.

    2. During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, media played a major role in supporting and inciting ethnic hatred and violence against Tutsi and moderate Hutu populations. The newspaper Kangura spread hatred against Tutsis, publishing articles and graphic cartoons in which Tutsis were attacked. A wider audience was reached by radio stations, which were key in transmitting hate propaganda and incitement to violence. Radio Rwanda and Radio Télévision des Milles Collines (RTML) instigated, encouraged and directed massacres. Hate messages broadcast during the genocide referred to Tutsis as “cockroaches” and issued instructions to kill them. Nearly one million people were killed.

    3. In the post-9/11 era, Islam and Muslims have been subject to stigmatization and hostility in Western media. Certain media outlets have identified Islam with terrorism, which, according to the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, is a major driver of resurgent Islamophobia around the world (E/CN.4/2006/17). Despite many civil society organizations delivering pro-Muslim discourses after the September 11 attacks, anti-Islamic fringe organizations have exploited mass media to spread messages of fear and anger. The former Independent Expert on minority issues noted in a report (A/HRC/13/23/Add.2) that members of Muslim and Arab communities in Canada stated that negative stereotypes had been reinforced since September 2001, including in the mass media, resulting in their reluctance to engage in public debate or raise their concerns.

    4. Prejudices and entrenched stereotypes against Roma are common and Roma communities are frequently the target of degrading and inflammatory language. In 2013, the case of a young blonde girl who was found living in a Roma settlement in Greece, prompted a wave of anti-Roma reports and accusations that Roma had abducted her. Such allegations prompted additional allegations from other countries. The accusations were subsequently found to be unfounded. Indeed, they were made prior to a comprehensive investigation and were based on sensationalist media coverage. The Special Rapporteur called5 on media and commentators to refrain from generalizations on the supposed criminality of Roma and warned that hateful rhetoric would trigger further stigmatization and even violence against Roma.

    5. In the Central African Republic, hate speech has been recognized as having played a role in inflaming and fuelling violence and has been described by United Nations officials as a possible precursor to serious human rights violations, including potential genocide.6 In March 2014, the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide alerted the media that Muslims were being “deliberately and systematically targeted by the anti-Balaka” in attacks referred to as “cleansing operations”. He referred to reports of hate speech by anti-Balaka (Christian armed groups) on public media referring to Muslims as “rotten potatoes” and public justification of their actions.

    6. On 2 July 2014, the Special Rapporteur called on Sri Lanka to stop racial and faith-based hatred and violence directed at Muslim and Christian communities by Buddhist groups with extremist views, and to bring perpetrators to justice.7 Various statements have promoted extremist views, proclaiming the racial superiority of Sinhala Buddhists and alleging that statues of Buddha are being bulldozed by religious minorities or that evangelical Christians are forcibly converting vulnerable people. Those statements reportedly contributed to over 350 violent attacks against Muslims and over 150 attacks against Christians in the past two years.

    7. Social media is a fertile ground for radical and terrorist groups to spread hateful messages. ISIL uses online platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube, to deliver updates on their actions as well as to reach out to potential donors and recruits, including posting videos and graphic material. The misuse of social media by ISIL has been described by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as “the product of a perverse and lethal marriage of a new form of nihilism with the digital age”.8

    8. Social media platforms have also been used to disseminate hate speech content against groups, which has fuelled intercommunal tensions and led, in some cases, to violent clashes among communities. Following a country visit in July 2014, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar expressed her concern over the spread of misinformation, hate speech and incitement to violence, discrimination and hostility in the media and Internet, particularly targeted against Muslim communities.9

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