Jan 29, 2024

The Role of Human Rights in the Prevention of State Perpetrated Nationalist Hate Speech and Disinformation

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Hate speech is becoming a global phenomenon with increases in homophobic, racist, and sexist speech. However, most discussions focus on private or individual offences, and do not look closely at speech which is instigated and disseminated by States. Through negative nationalism, nationalist paranoia, or simply hate-mongering, governments use hate speech in a variety of ways to garner support or in election campaigning. This phenomenon, which is more widely recognised in countries such as Myanmar, Russia, and Turkey, has been used in many other places.

This study will explore how this hate speech is disseminated, and the challenges to confront it. A key area of investigation is why specific groups, such as youth, non-citizens, sexual minorities, or ethnic minorities, are targeted, and the challenges to confront State based hate speech.

The Research Problem

While there are many studies on hate speech, there is a limited understanding of how to respond to State-based, or electoral hate speech. Even though it is a well-known tool of autocratic regimes and seen as a key element in the authoritarian handbook, many responses to hate speech rely on State actions, such as legislation, monitoring by government agencies, or public service education. These responses will be ineffective if it is the State itself conducting the violation. Hate speech perpetrated by a State is challenging to combat or prevent because speech by State officials is often protected. Criticising States or senior government officials in many countries is illegal or dangerous. Further, political groups can be adept at signalling hate speech without explicitly engaging in it, for example the tactics of ‘gaslighting’ or ‘dog whistling.’

Research Design

The research project asks the question: Are current human rights or national non-discrimination standards sufficient to counter State based hate speech?

To do this the research team, comprising of four universities, will collaborate on writing a research article on the legal, political, and social context to hate speech, from both a regional and global perspective, as the universities are from four separate regions.

The second phase of the research project is to develop educational resources which can be used in a relevant undergraduate course. The objective of the educational resource is so students are more attuned to identify, and possibly counter, State based hate speech. This learning resource will be in both English and a regional language (selected by the regional lead researcher)

The learning resource could take the form of a chapter for a textbook with additional teaching materials, which may be, for example, small group exercises, case studies, legal analysis, debates, or role plays.

The research project will be led by the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, in partnership with the Centre of Human Rights at University of Pretoria, Maastricht University, and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. By bringing together researchers from different regions, this research aims to study regional or national characteristics and certain target groups, focusing on youth and children with connections to education, crime, and sexuality, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, migrant workers, including refugees.

Project Objectives

Aligned with the WUN Strategic Plan of 2023-2026, which aims to achieve sustainable development and foster international research collaboration, the project addresses social justice, human rights, and inequality, seeking to reduce and eliminate hate speech by governments. The expected output is a collaboration of research articles on the legal, political, and social context of hate speech, both from regional and global perspectives. Resources will also be utilised as additional teaching materials for undergraduates to raise awareness of the state’s perpetration of human rights violations.