The Rabat Plan: Challenging Hatred while Preserving Free Expression

On Thursday, February 21st, 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay participated in an event to launch the, “Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”  
The plan was inspired by several events in recent decades, from the role of media in spurring the Rwandan genocide to the recent film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” that led to retaliatory riots across the world.  As the High Commissioner said, “this spiral of violence has made it incumbent on us to renew the search for correct balance between freedom of expression […] and the equally vital need to protect individuals and communities from discrimination and violence.”

She heralded the Rabat Plan as an important step providing stakeholders with ideas and tools to implement existing human rights norms while preventing incitement to hateful acts.  The launch event included several high-level experts, including Jorge Sampaio, High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations; Adama Dieng , Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide; Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief; and Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of “Article XIX”.

The experts upheld that efforts to challenge incitement should be grounded in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: both article 19 advocating freedom of expression, and article 20 prohibiting the advocacy of national, racial and religious hatred.  Thus, several experts argued that the best way to challenge hate speech is not by restricting expression but with more speech.  “More speech,” which can both prevent and respond to violence, should consist of education, intercultural and interreligious dialogues, and engagement with traditional and social media.  Similarly, they heralded the mutually reinforcing ties between freedom of religion and free expression.
Afterwards, States engaged in an interactive dialogue.  Several Muslim-majority States made comments reflecting recent experiences with anti-Muslim speech.  Other countries spoke of the importance of challenging hate speech both at the grassroots and through international condemnation.  
IIMA shares the High Commissioner’s hope that the Rabat Plan, will make “a very important contribution to a more peaceful, and more respectful world.”