Parliamentary Assembly session : 23 – 27 September 2002 

Interview with Ignasi Guardans, Spanish MP in the Liberal, Democratic and Reformers’ Group (LDR)

Racist propaganda: “Same rules for the Internet as for other media”

The Legal Affairs Committee rapporteur, Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish MP in the Liberal, Democratic and Reformers’ Group (LDR) in the Parliamentary Assembly, is in favour of a protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime so as to get signatory countries to introduce legal provisions for countering racism and Holocaust-denial on the Internet. He also recommends making it a crime for websites to host offensive material.

Question: Why, ten months since the cybercrime convention was opened for signature, has a protocol become necessary:

Ignasi Guardans: The cybercrime convention was negotiated among the Council of Europe member states but, unusually, with non-member states such as the United States present. That was why we decided to leave aside the issue of an Internet racism offence since the American Constitution protects total freedom of expression. We had to adopt a pragmatic approach as the alternative was to doom the convention to ineffectiveness. That allows us to be more demanding now, through the protocol, in acting on racist offences.

Question: What are the protocol’s main provisions and how will they improve action to combat xenophobia on the Internet?

Ignasi Guardans: Essentially, the protocol requires signatory states to introduce offences such as Holocaust-denial and issuing threats against any community on the ground of race, religion or language. In the report I am presenting on Friday the Legal Affairs Committee recommends also introducing the offence of unlawful hosting so as to allow prosecution of people who take advantage of one country’s more favourable legislation in order to make racist or xenophobic propaganda available in other countries with more restrictive legislation. The idea is simply that the same restrictions should apply to the Internet as apply to other media where disseminating racist ideas is concerned. Any restriction on freedom of expression must, however, remain the exception. The point of the protocol is primarily that, like the convention itself, it extends and promotes international legal co-operation to combat racism.

Question: What is your definition of racism material?

Ignasi Guardans: The protocol defines racist or xenophobic material as “any written material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as a pretext for any of these factors”.

Question: Which countries do you think will make this further commitment by signing the protocol?

Ignasi Guardans: The 34 countries which have signed the cybercrime convention, with the possible exception of the United States. If the USA refuses to sign, it must explain to the world why it refuses to co-operate on racism and why it wants to remain a haven for racist websites (editorial note: of 4,000 racist sites currently identified, 2,500 are hosted in the United States).