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In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director for Human Rights Watch, former Director of Communications at the International Crisis Group, writer and speaker on a multitude of conflict issues, and avid watcher and participant in the world of social media. His writing has appeared in the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and the International Herald Tribune, among others. He has also been an instructor for the Auschwitz Institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention.

 

Welcome. I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute. Social media and the constantly evolving ways of instant, online reporting have dramatically changed the ways we communicate, and we see more and more how it plays into conflict situations. From Egypt’s spring rebellion to Iran’s so-called “twitter revolution” and all manner of human rights issues being brought to the digital forefront, social media demands our attention in the field of genocide and conflict prevention. Here to raise it with me is Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director for Human Rights Watch and prolific author on the relationships between media and violent conflict for nearly two decades. Hello, Andrew. Wonderful to have you with us.

Thank you for having me.

As the media director for Human Rights Watch, how do you view the evolving role of social media, in terms of what they can do to prevent or transform violence?

Well, I think, as with all forms of media that have been developed over the ages, you see both positive and negative uses. I think we have to kind of be careful of sort of going to one extreme or the other, and you do see that, particularly with social media, that people say, ‘This is absolutely the greatest thing since sliced bread, this is going to solve all our problems,’ and another group of people saying, ‘No, actually, this is just horrific and this is just going to lead to mob violence or something.’ And the truth is both, and neither, and falling somewhere in the middle. Like a lot of things, social media has potential for being used for some good, and we’ve seen that, and it also has some potential to get quite ugly as well, and we’ve seen that too.

What are the biggest challenges to harnessing that potential for good, or for ameliorating the ways that it can cause harm?

Well, I think one of the things that has to be done is some kind of media monitoring. I think that’s always key, particularly in conflict or conflict-prone situations. You see good media monitoring happening in other media in conflict or post-conflict situations where conflict is likely to restart. Following closely in the vernacular languages what’s happening and how situations are being framed, what the narratives are that are developing, and who is really stoking things up, in terms of hate speech or even incitement to violence. And keeping, having multiple eyes on that is vitally important so you can catch things early — nip problems in the bud, as it were.

Do you see that as being a role taken up by coalitions of governments, or by the United Nations, or maybe by citizens’ advocacy?

Well, I think there’s always a danger when governments do it, isn’t there? But I think there should be multiple monitors on these things. The UN has done some good media monitoring in the past, in places, and there’s perhaps a role in some places for the UN. In some cases it’s NGOs that deal with media and media development that could take on this or at least advise on it. In other countries that role is also fulfilled, or maybe more likely fulfilled, by an independent media monitor made up of journalists and other media professionals who can create projects and create systems to keep an eye on things. Again, so you don’t have hate speech building and building, and so you don’t have incitement to violence developing. Before violence starts, you can always see these trends building in the media, and knowing when to jump in is also a very difficult question as well.

Is there a problem, or is there a challenge for us to evaluate the effectiveness in the end? The Boston Marathon bombing, maybe, as an example: There was a lot of Twitter — police using it, people sending photos and theories all over the internet — and it’s been kind of controversial as to whether they can actually tell if it helped or whether it hurt, making the picture more convoluted. Are there lessons we can take from that? Or is it always going to be a troubling thing to know whether or not it was good or bad?

Yeah, it will always be troubling to know whether something is good or bad, because you’re always working against what would have happened “if,” and you don’t really know, trying to play out what really happened, which is scenario A, against scenarios B, C, and D, which didn’t happen, and it’s impossible really to tell what was better or worse. But there are still lessons that can be learned in each of these cases. I mean, the Boston example is perhaps one of those that we would all hope would not be repeated in many ways. There was just some absolutely atrocious reporting, and you did see on the edges the development of some really nasty language. Even in some pretty mainstream media, you saw things that were really quite racist, bordering on hate speech. Then of course if you go a level or two down from that, into individual Twitter feeds and other social media, you saw some just appalling things, which was bordering on incitement to violence. But just the disinformation, or misinformation, I should say — because some of it must have been, I suppose, not intentional — that just spread. In a way it made a mockery of the idea that social media was going to be revolutionary. And honestly, it was a bit of a disaster, wasn’t it?

Do you find yourself optimistic that things will continue to improve, in terms of social media being used as a tool to prevent violence?

Well, I would hate to see people believe that it’s automatically going to be a force for good. I think there’s a serious potential for the kind of mass violence that is driven by social media in some part. It’s not revolutionary thinking exactly; we’ve seen it with every other form of media. We’ve seen mass atrocity crimes perpetrated with the help of posters, with newspapers, with radio — it’s almost inevitable that some kind of mob violence will come out of this. But it’s also inevitable that the tool will be used for good as well. And I think that’s why multiple NGOs and some international agencies perhaps, or associations of journalists, need to just be having systems in place in particularly tense areas to keep an eye on how the narratives are developing, and you know, to put it at its absolute most blunt, apply some kind of “cockroach rule” to this. You know, once people start talking about vermin and cockroaches, that’s just always the tip-off that something bad could and perhaps will go down. So I’m optimistic that these things can be used to help people who want to prevent mass atrocity crimes. I’m also very aware that these tools could be used to help perpetrate mass atrocity crimes.

Do you think that it’s likely that we’re going to have to make some compromises on protection of free speech, in order to prevent that kind of negative rallying using social media?

Well, there’s significant debates on this, and of course the sort of American approach to free speech is very different from, say, the European concept of free speech. I don’t think free speech includes being able to incite violence. And I think there are people who will disagree with that, but having seen how media plays into mass violence in places, it’s not just the yelling fire in a theater, it’s telling someone to start a fire in a theater. You don’t have that right. So I do think that keeping an eye on things — and there already have been cases where people are basically inciting violence using social media, and people don’t have a right to do that. Your free speech ends before that. And that will upset some free speech advocates, but that’s just how I see it.

How did you get started in the human rights field, and become involved with the Auschwitz Institute?

I was working at the International Crisis Group for many years, and I cannot actually remember who got in touch with me in the first place and how it actually came to be, but they essentially invited me out to one of the conferences, and it was fascinating — I mean, I’ve written about it in Foreign Policy magazine and elsewhere. I found the whole experience — it’s very enriching, you know, to go and talk about mass atrocity crimes in Auschwitz is obviously very powerful. But to take that lesson, and to get diplomats and military people and others, and realize that genocide and other mass atrocity crimes happen in places that look very different from Auschwitz. This one case is absolutely appalling, but the way it was done is not necessarily the way it’s going to be done the next time. And each genocide, the development of each sort of mass atrocity has its own specifics. And trying to find the warning signs through what’s going on. You know, not every genocide is the kind of industrial process that the Nazis did. There are other forms, and what people have to look out for, and in that, media monitoring generally is very crucial for that early warning.

What can people listening do in terms of prevention who are themselves connected to this very powerful system of social media communication?

Well, I think it’s very helpful when people call out others for hate speech and racist speech. I think that’s absolutely essential. When you’re on social media and you see others making comments that are just blatant hate speech — again, you don’t even have to get to sort of the “vermin and cockroach rule,” but even before that, you see hateful things being said, and you have to realize the power that those sorts of statements have — and simply calling people out.

Well, Andrew, I hope you’ll keep that keen eye on the media horizon, and continue to write and tell us about how we can do these sorts of things to watch out for negative aspects of this.

Thank you again for having me.

“When Hateful Speech Is Transformed Into Hateful Deeds”:
Examining Freedom of Speech, Hate Speech, and Incitement to Genocide

Incitement USHMM

Panelists at “Hate Speech and Incitement to Genocide,” US Holocaust Memorial Museum

By MICHELLE EBERHARD

Human rights simultaneously create duties and establish a basis for claims – that is, they emphasize the responsibility that one entity, be it state or individual, has towards another entity, as well as how an individual might be able to enforce another entity’s guarantee of a particular provision. Given the wide spectrum of rights that have been codified in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one right can, under certain circumstances, restrict the complete fulfillment of an obligation provided under another right, by virtue of what each is attempting to protect. One example of this tension is the debate between the right to freedom of expression and the right to be free of attacks on one’s own rights and reputation that can potentially result from inflammatory speech.

When it comes to genocide prevention, the most important component of this debate is how to balance freedom of expression with speech that falls under the category of “direct and public incitement to genocide,” a crime listed under Article III of the Genocide Convention. Indeed, individuals like Julius Streicher of Germany, as well as Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Nahimana, and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza of Rwanda, have all been convicted for public incitement to genocide. Despite these court cases, however, the issue of whether or not something qualifies as incitement remains open to interpretation and context. Indeed, not all inflammatory speech can or should be considered incitement, as freedom of expression is a necessary cornerstone of democracy. As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) states on its website, “incitement to commit genocide [requires] a calling on the audience (be they listeners or readers) to take action of some kind. Absent such a call, inflammatory language may qualify as hate speech but does not constitute incitement.”

To further elucidate the distinction between these two sets of rights, as well as to elaborate on efforts being made to combat incitement, the USHMM, in conjunction with the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, held a panel discussion February 5 titled Hate Speech and Incitement to Genocide.”

After opening remarks by Susan Bloomfield, director of the USHMM, five panelists guided by moderator Mike Abramowitz, director of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide, each spoke briefly on their area of expertise and then responded to questions posed by Abramowitz himself.

The first speaker tasked with answering Bloomfield’s question – “How we can counter dissemination of inflammatory speech while protecting the right to free expression?” – was the ambassador of Norway to the United States, Wegger Strømmen, who began by commenting on his personal introduction to human rights in the 1970s, which consisted of joining Amnesty International as an activist, accompanied by other young people who “thought we were going to change the world significantly.” Acknowledging that “we have a much more complex reality” today, particularly in regards to speech, as “more people have access to a microphone” than they used to, Strømmen offered this as a remedy to the struggle for balance between freedom of speech and avoiding incitement: “We should remember that the same tools that can be used to . . . cause incitement to violence can also be used to monitor them, to understand them.” In other words, he stated that “rational people” should be able to counter extremists with preventive measures that emerge from the same tools and tactics associated with incitement.

Strømmen was followed by Adama Dieng, the UN special adviser on prevention of genocide. Dieng pointed to preparations for the recently held Kenyan elections, indicating that “there have been numerous initiatives to develop ways to . . . counter the kind of hate speech that contributed to the incitement of that violence, in order to prevent a recurrence this time around.” Additionally, he mentioned that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has held a series of expert workshops that led to the “identification of three main points to be considered when seeking to strengthen national and international efforts to curb incitement.”

First, the OHCHR acknowledged that Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law,” should only be invoked for exceptional or extraordinary circumstances. Second, Dieng stressed the importance of “acknowledging that the human sentiment of hatred and discrimination go deeper than the offenses of discrimination, hate crimes and incitement. We must recognize the limits of legislation to combat hate speech and incitement. We need to develop a multilayered approach to fight the root causes of hate speech, racism, and discrimination.” In this spirit, he indicated the role of the promotion of human rights and tolerance, though he hesitated to place all is faith in the latter, saying that “when we tolerate someone, we accept, but we don’t embrace.” Perhaps it is human rights, then, that can fill this gap and thus complement tolerance education. Finally, Dieng stated that “there is a need for increased national and international monitoring capacities for early warning purposes,” which could be achieved by creative new technologies and media.

Susan Benesch, project director for the World Policy Institute’s “Dangerous Speech on the Road to Mass Violence,” was next.  She presented her theory on dangerous speech, which she defines as “certain speech, some subset of speech within this large, vague universe of hate speech . . . [that  has] a special, terrible power . . . to move groups of people so that they will condone and eventually take part in atrocities.” Two hallmarks of this she mentioned are dehumanizing language that associates human beings with animals (for example, the Nazis’ reference to Jews as pests or vermin, and the Hutus’ reference to Tutsis as inyenzi, or cockroaches), and what she called “accusation in a mirror.” This occurs when an “inflammatory speaker tells his audience that the other group, the future victims, are coming to get them,” and thus creates an “analogue of the one iron-clad defense to murder in every single legal system: self-defense.” When this happens, violence becomes both acceptable and necessary. In addition, Benesch pointed to a set of five criteria for making an educated guess on the level of danger that particular speech might lead to: the speaker, the audience, the speech act itself, historical and social context, and means of dissemination of the speech.

After Benesch came Frank LaRue, who agreed on the importance of criminalizing incitement to genocide, but emphasized the importance of having a threshold for doing so. As he remarked, it is “very important to maintain the idea that when you’re limiting speech, you’re going to the exception of the rule; the norm should be the openness.” Importantly, he also identified benchmarks for determining this threshold, which include intent, severity and extent of the content, the feasibility and immediacy of harm being produced, and the context within a specific country. When prompted by Abramowitz on a follow-up question, LaRue added that “oftentimes governments are using limitations, which they try to justify as limiting hate speech . . . but they’re actually limiting legitimate debate and dialogue,” which underscores the necessity of remaining aware of country-specific context in evaluating hate speech and incitement.

George Weiss, founder of Radio La Benevolencija Humanitarian Tools Foundation (La Benevolencija), followed LaRue. He explained the work that his organization has done, particularly in Rwanda over the past 10 years, which began when psychologists were invited by the Rwandan government to teach comparative psychology in the country. Noting that studies generated by Yale, Princeton, and New York University had all evaluated the program and produced positive feedback, Weiss reiterated that when audiences like the Rwandan public are afraid of what they are not accustomed to – for example, democratic principles – you must “reach them by giving them virtual examples that they respect,” which are often archetypal or heroic in nature. One example of this is a soap opera titled “New Dawn,” which has run in Rwanda since 2003 and remains the most popular soap opera in the country. As Weiss acknowledged toward the end of his remarks, “You don’t only change knowledge. You embed knowledge, and that has to lead to attitude change.”  Indeed, this is the goal of programs like “New Dawn” and similar projects created by La Benevolencija.

The last panelist was Aidan White, director of the Ethical Journalism Network, who stressed a return to the traditional values of journalism. Citing political manipulation and economic and professional crises as having undermined these efforts in recent years, White emphasized that journalism is different from free expression, in that journalism is “constrained expression – you can’t just say what you want to say.” Instead, White argued, journalists must be motivated by “cardinal principles,” including truth, independence, impartiality, accountability, and “[showing] humanity” in the way they do their work.

A range of topics were further extrapolated on as the moderator Abramowitz facilitated discussion on some of the points made by the panelists. This included issues pertaining to particular countries like Libya, Syria, and Iran, as well as Greece, which Weiss pointed out is the first country where a neo-Nazi group has been elected to Parliament. Given that this group, Golden Dawn, has “openly said that the Nazis and Hitler are their role models, [and] that they only got elected into parliament to destroy democracy,” the future of what Weiss refers to as the “destructuralization of Greek society” is certainly in question. White also responded to this, stating, “We need journalism . . . to give us informed background, to give us context, and to give us really important analysis of the consequence of events and how that’s going to affect people’s lives.”

When the conversation moved back to solutions for the debate over freedom of expression, LaRue commented that “never should intervention be censorship,” and instead that “the intervention and the response has to be positive speech.” Benesch supported this statement when she answered a related question, from Abramowitz, on why it is potentially risky to limit speech. She responded by noting that doing so “is to shut down the opportunity to debate, to air grievances, legitimate or not legitimate . . . and if you shut that down, that may in fact increase the likelihood of mass violence itself.” Therefore, while the fine lines that demarcate hate speech, incitement, and freedom of speech remain malleable, advancements made at multiple levels within the international community have certainly added to a greater contextualization of how we might eventually determine more fixed guidelines for establishing each of these boundaries.

Photo: blogs.ushmm.org

Tensions are running high between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have yet to resolve the conflict dating back to the Nagorno-Karabakh war of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite a 1994 ceasefire and rounds of internationally mediated negotiations, the two countries have not arrived at a permanent settlement and are currently engaged in a military buildup. Ceasefire violations by both sides and frustration resulting from lack of a clear resolution have led many Azeri refugees displaced by the conflict to consider war as a viable policy option and to engage in what appears to be military training.

Amnesty International issued a report on Friday urging Rwandan authorities to finish reviewing their “genocide ideology” law to ensure it does not contravene Rwanda’s obligations under international human rights law. Amnesty says the law, enacted in October 2008 to prevent a repeat of the 1994 genocide, is too broad and abstract, which leads it to be used to stifle political dissent and limit freedoms of speech and expression, including legitimate criticisms of current Rwandan policies by opposition politicians, journalists, and human rights activists. Rwandan officials responded to the allegations, saying Amnesty had “chosen to misrepresent reality in an inaccurate and highly partisan report.”

Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, appeared on Friday before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for the first time since his May 26 arrest. Responding to the 11 counts against him, including genocide, extermination and murder, and terrorism, he called the charges “obnoxious” and “monstrous” and declined to enter a plea. Mladic, who spent much of the hearing discussing his ill health, will appear before court again on July 4.

Image: Kiva Stories from the Field

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