European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

States should sanction the use of hate speech, while safeguarding freedom of expression, says Council of Europe anti-racism commission

Strasbourg, 21 March 2016 – Encouraging speedy reactions by public figures to hate speech, promoting self-regulation of media, raising awareness of the dangerous consequences of hate speech, withdrawing financial and other support from political parties that actively use hate speech and criminalising its most extreme manifestations, while respecting freedom of expression, are among the general policy recommendations issued today by the Council of Europe’s anti-racism commission.

On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) issued guidelines to all 47 member States of the Council of Europe on how to prevent hate speech, support those targeted by it, and deal with its consequences.

Hate speech is based on the unjustified assumption that a person or a group of persons are superior to others; it incites acts of violence or discrimination, thus undermining respect for minority groups and damaging social cohesion. This is why governments must resolutely and urgently react to hate speech, ECRI says.

In many instances, the most appropriate and effective approach to tackling hate speech can be self-regulation by public and private institutions, media and the Internet industry, such as the adoption of codes of conduct accompanied by sanctions for non-compliance. When necessary, the deletion of hate speech from web materials, disclosing the identity of hate speech users, and the obligation of media to publish acknowledgments that something they ran constitutes hate speech should be required.

Withdrawing all financial and other state support from political parties or other groups using hate speech, and eventually prohibiting or dissolving such groups is another recommendation of the Council of Europe anti-racism body. In the most serious cases, criminal prohibitions and penalties are necessary, but they should be used as a measure of last resort. All along, a balance must be kept between fighting hate speech on the one hand, and safeguarding freedom of speech on the other.

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland specifically warned against selective and arbitrary application of sanctions: “Anti-hate speech measures must be well-founded, proportionate, non-discriminatory, and must not be used to curb freedoms of expression or assembly,” he said. Jagland stressed that fighting hate speech must not be used to suppress criticism of official policies, political opposition and religious beliefs.

ECRI also stressed the importance of education and counter-speech in fighting the misconceptions and misinformation that form the basis of hate speech.

“Politicians, religious and community leaders have a crucial role to play – not only should they avoid using hate speech in public discourse, but they should also pro-actively counter it in their public statements,” said ECRI’s Chair Christian Ahlund. “States should also provide practical support to those targeted by hate speech: they should be made aware of their rights, receive legal and psychological assistance, be encouraged to report the use of hate speech and to bring proceedings to court, with the assistance of equality bodies and non-governmental organisations.”

Since 2013, ECRI, in its country monitoring work, has specifically focused on the use of hate speech against vulnerable groups.


General Policy Recommendation No. 15 on combatting Hate Speech, with the Explanatory Memorandum
Council of Europe’s No Hate Speech campaign
Factsheet on the hate speech-related case law of the European Court of Human Rights