Responding to ‘hate speech’ with positive measures: A case study from six EU countries

In this brief, ARTICLE 19 offers an overview of positive measures which States should take to respond to ‘hate speech,’ and provides examples of such measures from six European Union (EU) countries.

Under international human rights standards, States are obliged to adopt a series of complex measures to ensure an enabling environment for freedom of expression and equality.

When responding to ‘hate speech,’ States should not limit themselves to sanctions and prohibition for such expression. Experience shows that this approach is often counter-productive, as it fails to address the underlying social roots of the kinds of prejudice that drive ‘hate speech.’ Excessive restrictions of ‘hate speech’ might be a temporary way of dealing with the issue, but may result in the violation of international standards on freedom of expression and undermine the protection of equality in the long-term. In most instances, equality is better-promoted through positive measures, which increase understanding and tolerance, create spaces for inclusive dialogue, and promote intercultural understanding.

Examples of positive measures outlined in this brief have been identified by ARTICLE 19 through our work addressing ‘hate speech’ globally, and through research commissioned by ARTICLE 19 in 2017 in six Member States of the EU: Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom. The brief is not an exhaustive report on all positive measures undertaken in the respective countries: it provides examples of actions which illustrate possible approaches in this area, including for the media sector.

This brief first offers an overview of key international and Council of Europe human rights instruments stipulating State obligations to adopt positive measures in response to ‘hate speech.’ It then elaborates examples of such measures in the six countries of the study.

ARTICLE 19 hopes that the examples outlined in this brief can assist States in their identification of further positive examples of alternative policy measures to censorship, in order to more effectively address the root causes of hatred and increase general awareness among societal stakeholders of ‘hate speech’ – throughout the EU and beyond. The brief also aims to advance progressive interpretations of applicable international human rights law in this area, including to increase understanding of the standards laid out in the UN Rabat Plan of Action among decision-makers and stakeholders in the EU.

Read the brief