Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence

“The Rabat Plan of Action – which considers the distinction between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred – also contains threshold tests and recommendations, which are extremely relevant to social media and many other aspects of the digital universe. I believe this precision, expertise, trans-national scope and solid legal grounding are key elements we will need to count on as we walk more deeply into the digital landscape.”

(High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet)

The Rabat Plan of Action brings together the conclusions and recommendations from several OHCHR expert workshops on the prohibition of incitement to hatred (held in GenevaViennaNairobiBangkok and Santiago de Chile). By grounding the debate in international human rights law, the objective has been threefold:

  • To gain a better understanding of legislative patterns, judicial practices and policies regarding the concept of incitement to national, racial, or religious hatred, while ensuring full respect for freedom of expression as outlined in articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
  • To arrive at a comprehensive assessment of the state of implementation of the prohibition of incitement in conformity with international human rights law and;
  • To identify possible actions at all levels.

The Rabat Plan of Action, which was adopted by experts at the wrap-up meeting in Rabat on 4-5 October 2012, is available in EnglishFrenchArabic and Bangla (PDF). It suggests a high threshold for defining restrictions on freedom of expression, incitement to hatred, and for the application of article 20 of the ICCPR, by outlining a six-part threshold test which takes into account the context, speaker, intent, content, extent and likelihood.

The Rabat threshold test is being used by the national authorities for audio-visual communication in Tunisia, Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco. Furthermore, in its judgment of 17 July 2018, the European Court of Human Rights referred to the Rabat Plan of Action under relevant international materials as well as in its summaries of submissions from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Article19. The United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic is applying the Rabat test in its monitoring of incitement to violence. The UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, which was launched in June 2019, also refers to the Rabat Plan of Action.

In August 2019, the High Commissioner addressed the Security Council in an Arria-formula meeting on advancing the safety and security of persons belonging to religious minorities in armed conflicts. In this context, she reiterated that the Rabat Plan of Action emphasizes the role of politicians and religious leaders in preventing and speaking out against intolerance, discriminatory stereotyping and instances of hate speech.

In September 2019, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights published its policy guidance on “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security”. The policy guidance also encourages States to train law enforcement officials and the judiciary to understand and apply the six-part test set out in the Rabat Plan of Action (context; speaker; intent; content or form; extent of the speech; and likelihood of harm occurring, including imminence), in order to determine whether the threshold of incitement to hatred is met or not.

At the end of her visit to Malaysia in October 2019, the High Commissioner highlighted the Rabat Plan of Action as useful guidance in distinguishing between permissible speech and speech that may amount to incitement, and she offered the assistance of OHCHR and other UN human rights mechanisms to further explore this. In this context, the “Faith for Rights” framework also builds upon the Rabat Plan of Action, focussing specifically on the human rights responsibilities of faith actors.