UN plan clarifies countries' obligations regarding incitement to hatred
The Rabat Plan of Action is the outcome of a four year initiative by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to clarify the scope of state obligations under Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), prohibiting incitement to violence, hostility and discrimination. By focusing on Article 20, the initiative also sought to move the debate on "defamation of religion" on to solid legal, normative and policy grounds and ease the conflicts within the human rights council arising from the highly divisive issue.
The questions addressed in the Rabat Plan of Action are not new to ARTICLE 19. Over the last two decades, ARTICLE 19 has carried out rigorous work on incitement to hatred. This work has included The Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality, a progressive interpretation of international law on the relationship between freedom of expression and other rights. ARTICLE 19 actively participated in the OHCHR initiative and in particular submitted a six-part legal test for the thorough and consistent assessment of incitement cases.
ARTICLE 19 welcomes the findings and recommendations of the Rabat Plan of Action which include a number made by ARTICLE 19 in the four regional assessments we submitted as part of our active participation to the OHCHR initiative.
ARTICLE 19 draws particular attention to the following aspects of the Plan.
• States should be guided by express references to Article 20(2) of ICCPR in their domestic legislation; this legislation should include robust definitions of key terms like hatred, discrimination, violence and hostility, as suggested by the Camden Principles.
• States should repeal blasphemy and defamation of religion laws because these laws are fundamentally incompatible with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and stifle healthy debates about religion in the society. This argument has been made repeatedly by ARTICLE 19 and many others around the world.
• States should consider creating equality bodies or enhance this function within national human rights institutions with enlarged competencies in the field of fostering social dialogue but also in relation to accepting complaints about incidents of incitement to hatred.
• An independent judiciary should ensure consistent interpretation of incitement to hatred cases, including assessing them through a comprehensive threshold test. The Rabat Plan of Action refers in particular to ARTICLE 19 six part incitement test, as a way of achieving this.
• Criminal sanctions should be applied only in most severe cases and States should apply a broad set of measures to sanction and prevent incitement to hatred. These include policies that promote: intercultural dialogue; pluralism and diversity; and positive measures for the protection of minorities and vulnerable groups. ARTICLE 19 has long argued that the rights to freedom of expression and equality go hand-in-hand and mutually reinforce each other.
• An independent and pluralistic media plays a vital role in combating discrimination and promoting intercultural understandings, as highlighted by the Camden Principles, which contain useful guidance in these areas as well as on the role of politicians and political parties.
The Rabat Plan of Action also recommends:
• Strengthening the special procedures mechanisms and the international expert mechanisms that work on: the protection of freedom of expression; freedom of religion; preventing incitement to hatred; and preventing discrimination. This includes the provision of adequate resources.
• Stronger cooperation amongst relevant human rights treaty bodies and special procedures mandate holders, between various entities of the United Nations system including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Alliance of Civilisations, and the Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, and between various regional and cross-regional mechanisms such as the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, the Organisation of American States, the African Union, ASEAN, as well as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
ARTICLE 19 calls on States, international and regional bodies to implement the recommendations of the Rabat Plan of Action.
ARTICLE 19 also urges States and other stakeholders to continue the dialogue and exchange of practices and approaches initiated through the OHCHR process on article 20, and others, such as the Istanbul process established to provide impetus to the implementation of UN HRC Resolution 16/18: Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.