Hate speech can be both a precursor and a trigger of atrocity crimes – UN warns
25 February 2023
“We know that the impact of hate speech makes those targeted more vulnerable to violence, exposes them to exclusion and discrimination."
The UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, has warned that hate speech, especially if accompanied by policies and practices that discriminate against populations based on their identity often results in hate crimes, discrimination, and violence and can be both a precursor and a trigger of atrocity crimes, in particular genocide.
“Countering and addressing hate speech is crucial. In the Holocaust, and the genocides in Rwanda against the Tutsi and in Srebrenica, Bosnia Herzegovina, hate speech and the dehumanization of ‘the other’ was present during, after and long before violence broke out and such crimes were committed.” She said at a press briefing held on 24 February at the UN House in Abuja.
Nderitu emphasised that action aimed at countering and addressing hate speech must be at the heart of all prevention efforts. “Indeed, it all begins with words.” She said, “By addressing divisive and harmful language, we can avoid escalation of tensions that could result in violence. Measures to that effect can also help build societies that are resilient and inclusive.”
She explained that her role as Under Secretary General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide was not to decide whether Genocide, had taken or is taking place. “This is the responsibility of independent courts of justice that have the jurisdiction to make those judgements,” she informed, “Our focus is on prevention of genocide and related crimes, detecting risk factors with the objective of mitigating and deescalating them.” She informed.
On the 2023 elections in Nigeria, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide noted that election season in Nigeria had witnessed a surge in the use of inflammatory language, hateful and divisive rhetoric, and such hate speech was amplified at an unprecedented rate by digital technology.
Nderitu said further, “We know that the impact of hate speech makes those targeted more vulnerable to violence, exposes them to exclusion and discrimination, exacerbates underlying social and economic inequalities, and undermines social cohesion. We know too that hate speech particularly impacts on women differently as is often evidenced by their absence from political spaces. It also contributes to polarizing communities along identity lines, hampering dialogue and reconciliation.”
The United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser of Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu is on an official visit to Nigeria this week ahead of the 25 February general elections, and she has met with government authorities, political leaders, representatives of civil society, traditional and religious leaders, and members of the international community for a better understanding of developments and views in the country.
She called on the media to play their invaluable role during electoral processes in educating, informing, raising awareness, and alerting on situations at risk, and countering narratives of hatred and segregation with verified facts.
The Under-Secretary-General acknowledged the work done by “my UN colleagues in the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) led by Deputy SRSG Giovanni Biha and the UN Country Team in Nigeria led by Resident Coordinator Matthias Schmale in supporting Nigeria towards a peaceful election.”