Combating Hate Speech

The Council of Europe European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) adopted on 8 December 2015 a general policy recommendation on combating hate speech.

According to the recommendation hate speech has to be understood as “the advocacy, promotion or incitement, in any form, of the denigration, hatred or vilification of a person or group of persons, as well as any harassment, insult, negative stereotyping, stigmatization or threat in respect of such a person or group of persons and the justification of all the preceding types of expression, on the ground of ‘race’, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, language, religion or belief, sex,  gender, gender Identity, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics or status”.

The fight against hate speech is considered a fundamental step in the development of a cohesive and democratic society and the protection of human rights and the rule of law. At the same time, action against the use of hate speech is not to be intended as a way to safeguard particular beliefs, ideologies or religions but as a tool to protect individuals or groups of individuals. Another undesired outcome of the recommendation, as ECRI clearly states, might be the misuse of restrictions on hate speech to “silence minorities and to suppress criticism of official policies, political opposition or religious beliefs”.

As a response to the recommendation, on 10 May 2016 the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament set up the committee on intolerance, xenophobia, racism and hate speech, also known as Jo Cox Committee, from the name of British Labour Party politician who was murdered by an extremist in 2016.

On 13 January 2017, the Council of Europe’s Venice Office hosted a meeting of the drafting group of the Jo Cox Committee. The examination of hate speech phenomenon in Italy, the discussion on possible solutions and the study of the committee’s work from a European perspective were the main aims of the meeting.

Deputy Secretary General Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni gave an overview on activities to prevent and fight hate speech in the Council of Europe Member States highlighting the common problems such as the lack of data and the fact that women are often victims of ‘multiple discriminations’. She also presented best practices and solutions to be adopted in the fight against hate speech.