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Forms of Hate Speech and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)

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In this article, issues are raised concerning freedom of expression and forms of hate speech including advocacy of religious hatred in light of proposals to combat defamation of religions. In particular, it is asked whether parallels can be drawn between freedom of expression and protection from forms of hate speech in the area of race and ethnicity, and expression and protection in the field of religion. The present article offers a brief summary of relevant ICERD (‘the Convention’)<xref ref-type="fn" rid="FN1">2</xref> principles and practice. The sketch of principles revolves around key areas of the Convention: the concept of discrimination including the ‘grounds’ of prohibited discrimination and how they relate to religious groups; the Convention’s stance on hate speech and rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion<xref ref-type="fn" rid="FN2">3</xref> and freedom of opinion and expression.<xref ref-type="fn" rid="FN3">4</xref> The concluding section reflects on the concept of defamation of religions, the boundaries of ICERD in its current interpretation, and the idea of ICERD as a model for wider exercises in standard setting. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination (CERD) has the longest practice of any treaty body in the fields within its mandate and has developed a distinctive discourse in key areas. ‘Hate speech’ in the present article is used as shorthand for a range of international provisions protecting individuals and groups from discrimination and other assaults on their dignity and does not imply a special definition beyond the examples cited.

Affiliations: 1: Keele University UK


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