The development of human rights law and theory should follow not only the technological developments but the realities on the ground. Of course this is an ideal flow of developing the relevant jurisprudence. However, without at least conceptual clarity on concepts which are developed or in the process of evolving represents not only impediment for the legal science and practice but also dangerous enterprise. In that sense, not only the international law and human rights both on local, regional and international level should be reexamined and set on the right track, but the public discourse should be modified for that purpose. With the increasing rise of xenophobia, populism and nationalism the question of hate speech takes immense importance in the developments on international and EU level. Additionally, with the explosion of the social media like facebook, twitter and others this is even more relevant. Social media have been used both to mobilize actions and activism of large extent (for example, the Arab spring) and in same time to incite hate, racism, discrimination and violence regardless of the sides. This kind of situation opens questions not only on the role and effect of the social media, and to which extent they could be considered as political and public space, or our common “virtual” world (The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt p.57 and 199) and the effect of their instant dissemination power by which the erosion of the public debate and sphere is enforced. Without public debate and sphere there is no politics or common world, and without politics there is no freedom since this is the raison de etre of the former. The public space is of utmost importance since this is the space and place where freedom to act and speak reinforce our belonging to a political community (Human Condition, p.178 and 179) And plurality or belonging to a political community to which we identify but yet distinguish with both through speech and action (especially the former) is of immense importance of protecting the human dignity, which does not concerns individuals but groups. Oppositely from the traditional moralistic conceptions on human dignity which is focused on the individual itself, my understanding through the work of Hannah Arendt is focused on the plurality or the political community, and its expression (affirmative) and protection (negative) in the objective reality or the public sphere.
To come back to the question of hate speech especially on social media that opens numerous problems of legal, ethical, political and technological nature something that Arendt could provide for answers. Historically, the initial practical development of hate speech prohibitions and criminalization and especially incitement of racial hatred commences more intensely with the Rwandan genocide where the incitement to ethnic hatred resulted in genocide against Tutsis. The propaganda was carried out through the local radio. Thus, the relevant international legal instruments existing are the Convention on Prevention and Protection of Genocide, International Convention for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and etc. On European level is the European Convention on Human Rights and attempts but still rudimentary of the European Union to tackle these issues. Nonetheless, the definitions in the stated documents are broad and do not respond to the complex realities we are living in. On the other hand, the requirements exist for national authorities to prohibit and criminalize the hate speech and crimes reflected in racist, defamatory and xenophobic speech, as various national legislations deem relevant. Whether this is the case and to which extent is a matter of evaluation and reporting especially by Special Rapportuers and country progresses and processes individually.
In analyzing or evaluating hate speech and crimes committed notably as result of it, the most common element that should be looked at is the “group” element or the plurality – belonging to a political community whose link and identification with is through the speech itself. The speech is what brings certain political community or plurality together, and the speech is what can be action or criminal conduct (actus reus) in violating or infringing the same political community. Thus, plurality in Arendt has definitely double sword meaning. Here is also the requirement on the existence of the infrastructure and system or bureaucracy which is also related to existence of plurality (esp, in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity). No individual could commit such crimes. Therefore, the orchestrated and state instrumentalized commission of crimes should be looked at, rather than isolated cases of individual actors. However, those individuals could be belonging to the system or hold publicly relevant position, and thus be found accountable. Ultimately the system or state itself should be accountable of not preventing and addressing the existence of hate crimes something similar to the institute of (due diligence) developed by the European Court of Human Rights. Thus, the main point is that the group or belonging to political community is a political criteria rather than social as one definition on hate speech suggest (Repression of Hate Speech: its foundations in international and EU law, Fabio Marcielli), and this should be clarified.
Furthermore, under the umbrella of the common term and definition “hate speech” everything possible is included from racism, hatred, discrimination to violence. Instead various legal thresholds should be developed for each of one as the practice on European Court of Human Rights in terms of discrimination and non-discrimination shows. It is dangerous to keep everything under the nomination of “hate speech”. Every racist statement is discriminatory in its core and thus carries violence in its self, but not every discriminatory statement is per se racist. Clear distinction especially in legal terms is required.
The balance and dichotomy of determining the boundaries between freedom of expression and hate speech is flawed. For the simple reason of the difference of the “agent/s” individual vs. plural, hate speech is qualified as such because it concerns group of people or plurality, and no individual only. The definition on hate speech should make this distinction.
Finally, opening a debate of social media as public spaces vis a vis outlets for erosion of those political space and public debates within. Subsequently the sub issues of social media as instant dissemination tools for activism vis a vis methods for inciting xenophobia, hatred, racism and violence, and the accountability thereof. The legal instruments stated above do not deal with these issues except the Council of Europe Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime from 2003 which requires states to criminalize any racist and xenophobic conduct done on internet and through internet. However, this again remains matter of national legislation and the development of the national judicial practice. In that direction, this is tantamount in further development of the institute of hate speech and crimes committed as a result.
By Jana Lozanoska
Phd Candidate at UN University for Peace, San Jose Costa Rica.