International Law and Human Rights. Hate Speech as a Symptom and Cause of Hatred

Essay, 2014

8 Pages


International Law and Human Rights

'Hate propaganda is often not a symptom of hatred between groups. Rather it is the cause of the hatred'.

- (J. Belman) Critically Discuss.

Martin Luther King once purported that, 'like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity'. Hatred, in itself, is not a pre-existing condition; it is a manifestation of exposed circumstances, time, as well as the opinions of others as transposed onto one's own self. Hate speech, while not universally accepted in definition, can be understood as the 'promotion, endorsement and encouragement of a vilification of others based on innate differences’.[1] It has been suggested that hate speech is used as a 'vehicle to further a political agenda',[2] rather than a direct expression of a deep-seeded or inherent hatred. While hate speech and the use of propaganda may be a means of expressing hatred towards a group, less addressed is the fact that it is also an end in itself: often, hate speech is not only a symptom but a cause of the hatred, the latter as argued by Belman. Hate speech, as a cause of discrimination towards a group, has existed throughout the ages and is still most pertinent in this modern world, where social media and broadcasting can reach millions with the click of a button, without fear of reprisal or the need for intensive research. Social media and the internet as forms of disseminating malicious intent and hatred between groups are rife. Hate speech may be a symptom of hatred amongst a few, but it has the power to stir and plant the seeds of the same hatred in many.

There is no uniform definition of 'hate speech', rather it is left to the domestic legislative organs of states to entrench these definitions in their own nations. Thus, domestic regulations of hate speech are not uniform across the globe. Instead, a great divide in national approaches creates a tension, in particular, between the American protection of hate speech and the continental European approach. The First Amendment of the American Bill of Rights explicitly makes reference to a freedom of expression and this is imbedded in domestic precedent as giving rise to an innate protection of 'hate speech'. In this regard, the United States protects hate speech unless it incites actual violence and that speech will likely give rise to imminent violence.[3] The rest of the democratic and liberal world, most notably continental Europe, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, curtail freedom of expression in relation and proportion to the harm principle.[4] Effectively, the harm principle remands a proportionality test instigated by Article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and adopted by Article 10 of the ECHR and various other domestic and regional legislations. These disparities mean that inconsistencies in a global redress of hate speech are found. In France, one can go to prison for denying the Holocaust,[5] while in America, the Ku Klux Klan marched wearing full Nazi uniform through the quarter of Holocaust survivors and this was not forbidden nor deemed illegal by the courts.[6]

Comparatively, universal legislation walks the line between protecting hate speech and criminalising the behaviour. In this regard, hate speech balances the unfixed divide where ICCPR Articles 19, the protection of the freedom of expression of the individual and 20, the prohibition on speech inciting hatred of a group of persons, meet. The American approach to such an unbridled freedom of expression is born from a fear of gross misuse of the legislation;[7] one which cannot be assumed unfounded when Turkey's abhorrent exploitation of Article 312 of their national Penal Code to suppress Kurdish expression of cultural pride is frequent.[8] The realisation that, most commonly, any legislation curtailing freedom of expression is undertaken by public authorities, rather than hate-filled individuals, only fuels the argument that, often, suppression and violence is enacted not as a symptom of pre-existing hatred, but for the sole purpose of causing hate.

Samuel P. Huntington, American theorist, suggests that, often, hate speech is a means of implementing a political agenda: it may be cited by people with interests in creating, enflaming and maintaining such divides in society to further their own individual or party ends;[9] ends such as an accession to power, as in Nazi Germany, or the maintenance of an absolute rule, as evidenced by Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia during the Balkan conflicts.[10] Even an end in the avoidance of public reform which may be damaging to party formation and policy, as the Rwandan genocide demonstrated.[11] Sigmund Freud famously stated that 'humans have only two types of instincts...those which seek to preserve and unite...and those which seek to destroy and kill';[12] in this regard, Huntington's notable article, 'Who are We?', asserts that, in a culturally diverse nation, where everyday individuals regard each other as separate and unlike, a common other, a 'they', must appear in order for the individuals to relate to each other. '"You" and "I" become "we" when a "they" appears'.[13] Therefore, as 'some people clearly do [need enemies]',[14] hate speech can be seen as essential to breed common identity and a sense of belonging, a common sense of purpose, for the achievement of political goals of national unification. However, the same logic used to bring a nation together can also be reversed, used to divide one, by instead uniting groups against or in favour of others. Instead of blurring their differences, hate speech is a mechanism which is used to highlight the divergences of mankind. This can be evidenced in a replay of history's cyclical nature; from white supremacy in the United States, to Aryan sentiments in Nazi Germany, to the ethnic differentiation between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. To this effect, hate speech is effective and even necessary in the dissemination of hatred for strategic purposes.

Case studies of a cyclic history, as mentioned above, have resulted in precautions, decisions and legislative redress in regards to hate speech as a controversial phenomenon. 2003 saw a landmark decision emerge from the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda, criminalising hate speech. The Nahimana Case concerned three Rwandan Hutus, prominent in their domestic media avenues, convicted on grounds of incitement to genocide.[15] This decision reflected the power of words and words alone as a means of disseminating hatred, evident as the presiding judge, Ms Navanathem Pillay, stated that 'without a firearm, machete, or any physical weapon, you caused the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians'.[16] Pillay's use of the word 'caused' is powerful in and of itself: reinforcing in international precedent the causal link between hate speech and hateful actions. A more concrete expansion of 'hate speech' also came out of the Nahimana Case, as Hassan Ngeze was convicted without an incitement to violence or encouragement of genocide; rather, his conviction rested on the shoulders of statements he published which were 'brimming with ethnic hatred' despite no call to action.[17]


[1] Michael Weinman, “State Speech vs Hate Speech: What to do about Words that Wound?”, Essays in Philosophy 7:1 (2006), 14.

[2] Jonathan Belman , “’ A Cockroach Cannot Give Birth to a Butterfly’ and Other Messages of Hate Propaganda”, Harvard Law Journal (2004), accessed February 17, 2014, [ ~t656_web// peace/Articles_Spring_2004/ Belman_Jonathon_hate_propaganda.htm], 1.

[3] Engrossed Bill of Rights, September 25, 1789.

[4] B. Petersson, “Combating Uncertainty, Combating the Global: Scapegoating, Xenophobia and the National-Local Nexus”, accessed February 18, 2014, [], 3.

[5] Ibid, 7.

[6] National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (1977), U.S., 53 L. Ed. 2d 96, 97 S. Ct. 2205.

[7] Betty A. Dobratz and Stephanie Shanks-Meile, “Conflict in the White Supremacist/Racialist Movement in the United States”, International Journal of Group Tensions, 25: 1 (1995), 60.

[8] Ayrimci Sozluk, “Should We Let the Hate Free? The Case of Google, Cyber Censorship and Turkey”, Ahmetozcan, accessed Feburary, 17, 2014, [].

[9] Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We?: America’s Great Debate (New York: Free Press, 2004), 28.

[10] Belman, “A Cockroach Cannot Give Birth to a Butterfly”, 5.

[11] Ibid, 1.

[12] Huntington, Who Are We?, 25.

[13] Ibid, 24.

[14] Ibid, 25.

[15] The Prosecutor v. Ferdinand Nahimana, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, Hassan Ngeze (Appeal Judgment), ICTR-99-52-A, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), 28 November 2007, available at: [accessed 16 February 2014]

[16] Associated Press, "Rwandan Journalists Found Guilty of Genocide," (2003), accessed 5th February,2014 at, [ 1070472804243_65882004?s_name=&no_ads=].

[17] The Prosecutor v Ferdinand Nahimana and Others.

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International Law and Human Rights. Hate Speech as a Symptom and Cause of Hatred
The University of Adelaide
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international, human, rights, hate, speech, symptom, cause, hatred
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Caitlin Galpin (Author), 2014, International Law and Human Rights. Hate Speech as a Symptom and Cause of Hatred, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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