UNDP Development Dialogues: Preventing Atrocity Crimes – the role of countering and addressing hate speech | Briefing by Danielle Bell, Chief of Human Rights Office, UNAMI

UNDP/OSAPG High Level Event - 5 March 2021

Thank you, Mr. Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues

Many thanks also to UNDP and the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide for organizing today’s event and for providing the opportunity to share an update on our work on hate speech in Iraq.

Iraq is a diverse but highly polarized society where incidents of hate speech have often contributed to escalating cycles of violent extremism. However, Iraq’s weak legislative framework to combat hate speech, combined with a widespread lack of political will, largely prevents peddlers of hatred from being held to account.

These concerns were reflected in the 2018 Concluding Observations on Iraq by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, where the committee expressed its concern at the use of hate speech by public figures, including politicians, and stated that Iraq’s legislation “does not sufficiently cover the prohibition of hate crime and hate speech”.

Unfortunately, the use of hate speech against members of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq goes largely unchecked. Impunity for hate speech exacerbates existing feelings of marginalization, makes these groups more vulnerable to extremist messaging based on identity politics, and risks perpetuating a cycle of fear resentment and violence.

The use of hate speech in Iraq reflects long-standing discriminatory attitudes which are variously exhibited through derogatory designations of certain communities in public and private conversations; in teaching curricula and textbooks; and through hateful political or religious statements on social media or TV. Such actions, when tolerated by the authorities, risks “normalizing” discriminatory practices and increases the perception of targeted groups that the government is unable or unwilling to protect them.

In March 2020 UNAMI Human Rights Office hosted a “Dialogue on Hate Speech”, co-chaired by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and used this occasion to launch UNAMI’s own ‘Action Plan on Hate Speech.’

In line with its commitment under the Action Plan to address the root causes of hate speech, UNAMI Human Rights Office is currently engaging with the Government of Iraq, civil society and the Iraq Independent Human Rights Commission, and representatives of minority and majority communities to support efforts to counter all forms of discrimination.

The following examples illustrate some of the initiatives already carried out – or planned to be carried out by UNAMI Human Rights Office in this context.

• After the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued its Concluding Observations on Iraq in 2019, UNAMI Human Rights Office facilitated the establishment of Minority Rights Working Groups in both Federal Iraq and Kurdistan Region. The working groups meet regularly and include representatives from the Federal Government, the Kurdistan Regional Authorities, the Iraq High Commission for Human Rights, the Kurdish Human Rights Commission, and representatives of minority communities and civil society. The Working Group members engage in constructive dialogue to agree concrete steps to implement the CERD recommendations and develop joint projects to raise awareness on the protection of minority communities across the country.

• UNAMI Human Rights Office also conducts multiple workshops to promote minority rights. In December 2020, for example, UNAMI HRO facilitated two workshops focused on the protection of Iraq’s diversity, including preservation of minority languages. The workshops resulted in concrete and practical recommendations on strengthening the protection and promotion of minority rights and languages which were shared with Government Authorities and Kurdish Regional Authorities.

• In 2019, UNAMI Human Rights Office conducted a minority and human rights film festival during which young filmmakers were invited to submit short films on minority-specific human rights themes. The films were shown to audiences at 33 screenings in 17 of Iraq’s 18 governorates reaching over 4,000 viewers from diverse communities.

• UNAMI HRO is currently working on a public report highlighting Youth Peace Narratives on cross-community cooperation. The report will document initiatives led by young people from across all ethnic and religious communities to address common human rights concerns. Stories of cross-community projects have been shared by members of Yezedi, Kakai, African Descent, Turkmen, Christian, and other minority communities as well as by members of majority communities. The public report will be accompanied by the launch of an interactive online platform which will provide a public space to continue the dialogue and encourage activists from all communities to share their experiences as an awareness raising and information-sharing tool.

• UNAMI HRO is closely monitoring acts of hate speech during various phases of the elections scheduled for October 2021. UNAMI’s work is particularly focused on monitoring and analysis of acts of hate speech, specifically targeting potential women candidates and political aspirants belonging to religious minorities. The Mission remains engaged in promoting efforts for the development of a code of ethics to combat hate speech during the elections.

• In addition, UNAMI HRO is strengthening its monitoring of online hate speech targeting minorities at risk of violence, including hate speech directed against the LGBTQ community, and directly reporting hate speech to social media channels for removal of content, in parallel to engagement with Iraqi civil society organisations carrying out similar human rights monitoring in the online space.

Ideally, a discriminatory environment permissive of hate speech is never permitted to deteriorate into a situation where incitement and commission of genocide and other atrocity crimes takes place.

Where this has happened, as in Iraq, support for survivors, and legal recognition of the nature of such crimes and the trauma they inflicted upon persecuted minorities can contribute to creating an environment where the rights of those minorities can be better protected and better respected, including prohibitions on hate speech. In this regard, UNAMI HRO contributed to the development of the Yazidi Women Survivors law, enacted this week, a major step forward for victims.

Thank you to all again for the opportunity to speak on the important panel. Our collaborative efforts will hopefully contribution to the prevention of hate speech.

Additional Info

  • Agency: UNAMI, UNDP
Last modified on Friday, 05 March 2021 20:33

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