European regional forum on “Hate Speech, Social Media and Minorities”- Co-hosted by UNITED

We at UNITED are very honored to share one of our exceptional achievements in the year 2020. UNITED had the opportunity to co-host the first European regional forum on “Hate Speech, Social Media and Minorities” which took place on 21-22nd September 2020.

The regional forum was organized to provide regional insights on “Hate Speech, Social Media and Minorities” in the thematic work of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues for his upcoming report to the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2021. The forum also provided insights for the work and recommendations of the 13th Session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues, which took place in Geneva, on 19-20th November 2020.

The regional forum included the following five objectives:

  • To raise awareness about and to promote understanding of the forms of online hate speech;
  • Identify legal, institutional and policy challenges concerning the dissemination of online hate speech, particularly against minorities;
  • Explore and identify appropriate responses to the dissemination of hate speech against minorities on social media platforms;
  • Strengthen the participation of persons belonging to minorities and their representatives in the development of laws and policies, as well as global discussions on online hate speech and the promotion of human rights and ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity;
  • Strengthen partnerships among various stakeholders and to build their capacity to address hate speech against minorities.

We are very pleased that the forum was highly successful with up to 165 participants representing states, international organizations, civil society, academia, and minority groups comprising of various stakeholders in this field.

As the forum dealt with an important contemporary and global issue, it also proved to be a platform for numerous distinguished personalities. The opening statement was given by H.E. Mr. Alexander Schallenberg, Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of Austria. The keynote speakers included:

  • Ms. Anna-Mária Bíró, Director of the Tom Lantos Institute
  • H.E. Mr. Alexander Schallenberg, Minister of Foreign Affairs Austria
  • Ms. Snežana Samardžić-Marković, Director General of Democracy, Council of Europe
  • Ms. Birgit Van Hout, OHCHR Regional Representative for Europe
  • Mr. Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights
  • Ms. Maria Daniella Marouda, Chair of European Commission against Racism and Intolerance
  • Mr. Christophe Kamp, Director of the Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities
  • Ms. Katarzyna Gardapkhadze, First Deputy Director, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
  • Mr. Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues

The forum provided a platform for numerous actors and based on a highly informed discussion and considering all relevant aspects of the submissions a set of specific recommendations were developed as part of the Forum. The recommendations were collated and edited by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues and the Regional Forum organizing team. As the term ‘minority’ needs to be clearly defined for a better understanding of the scope of the forum and its recommendations; the term “minorities” refers to national, or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities as specified in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities [1992] and further defined in the Special Rapporteur’s last two reports to the UN General Assembly in connection of the meaning of the term ‘minority’  [2019] and on the scope and significance of the four categories of minorities recognized at the United Nations (national or ethnic, religious and linguistic) [2020].

In addition, within the text, certain specific forms of discrimination or hatred are enumerated, such as antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Gypsyism, caste, as well as other distinctive forms of hatred. It is also important to note that this list is intended to be non-exhaustive and open-ended to include all protected characteristics under international human rights law.

The recommendation addressed the following main categories:

  • Causes, scale, and impact of hate speech targeting minorities in social media
  • International legal and institutional framework (norms, institutions, mechanisms)
  • Regulation of online hate speech: The role and responsibility of intergovernmental organizations, states, internet companies, and social media platforms (regulate what and how?)
  • International Organization, States and Internet Companies and Social Media Platforms in accordance with international human rights law, particularly on the right to freedom of expression.
  • Assessment/Identification of Hate Speech, Addressing/Removing Hate Speech, Appealing Hate Speech-related decisions.

The recommendation also covered the question of regulation on what is to be addressed and how it should be done.  The forum also discussed and gave proposals for positive initiatives to address online hate speech, specifically the role of NHRIs, human rights organizations, civil society, and other stakeholders.

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