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Statement by Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the Human Rights Council at the 13th Session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues: "Hate Speech, Social Media and Minorities"

19 November 2020

High Commissioner,
Distinguished delegates and participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to open this thirteenth session of the Forum on Minority Issues with this year’s topic of “Hate Speech, Social Media and Minorities”.

I would like to welcome everyone and express my sincere thanks for your flexibility to participate in this now fully virtual session. Unfortunately, the current health situation in Geneva and the resulting restrictions are preventing us from holding a physical meeting as originally planned but on the other hand this format allows us – and we have seen that on various other occasions – to reach a much broader audience well beyond Geneva.  

I would like to warmly welcome and congratulate the chairperson of this year’s Forum, Ms. Natalie Alkiviadou, who has very kindly accepted the important task of chairing this thirteenth session. I also wish to welcome Mr. Fernand de Varennes, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, and thank him for his longstanding work in guiding the important Forum and preparing its annual sessions.

Since its establishment in 2007 by the Human Rights Council resolution 6/15, the Forum on Minority Issues has discussed some of the key challenges and issues affecting minorities globally, in a spirit of open dialogue and mutual respect and understanding.

These discussions could not be meaningfully carried out without the full and effective participation of the people concerned themselves – the representatives of minorities. They are here to remind us of their problems and challenges but also of their valuable contribution to our societies. And let us not forget : minorities are always bridge-builders.

I am pleased to see that this year, in spite of the challenges associated with virtual meetings, minorities from all over the world will be participating, ensuring that their voices and personal experiences are part of the discussions on challenges and good practices in the protection and promotion of minority rights.

I also wish to extend a warm welcome to our distinguished panellists, who will be sharing with us their insights on the challenges, opportunities and successful initiatives in addressing hate speech against minorities in social media, in line with the principles and rights enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and other relevant international instruments. 

The Forum’s four thematic panels will address

  1. the causes, scale and impact of hate speech targeting minorities in social media;
  2. the international legal and institutional framework;
  3. the role and responsibility of intergovernmental organizations, States, internet companies and social media platforms;
  4. and the role of national human rights institutions, human rights organizations, civil society and other stakeholders.

I look forward to the recommendations of the Forum, which will be presented by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues to the Human Rights Council in March 2021.

Discrimination and hatred against minorities of all kinds continue to poison our societies. Modern media has made it even easier to spread hate speech. What may have been mumbled in a dark corner yesterday, is today being presented without hesitation to a broad audience via Facebook, Twitter or other social media.

Around the world, we are witnessing a disturbing rise of xenophobia, racism and intolerance – including rising antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred and persecution of Christians or other religious minorities. Unfortunately, the current pandemic has given rise to a new wave of hate speech and discrimination, conspiracy theories and deliberately false information.

The Human Rights Council and its subsidiary mechanisms remain committed to combating hate speech against minorities wherever it arises while at the same time promoting the full enjoyment of freedom of expression and equality for all and in all fields of life, particularly for those most marginalized. So, I very much welcome the important topic of this year’s Forum,

This Forum is so interesting, so important and so indispensable, because it is interactive, inclusive and universal – owing to the participation and work of civil society organizations and human rights defenders who are actively engaged in the promotion and protection of the rights of minorities around the world - often at the risk of their own lives and that of their families.

The Human Rights Council does not tolerate any act of intimidation harassment or reprisal against groups or individuals who cooperate with the Council, its representatives and mechanisms.

As President, I have been conscious of the fact all through this year that it is my responsibility to remain vigilant regarding any such allegations and I assure you that I will follow up on all cases of reprisals that are brought to my attention. I count on your cooperation in this collective endeavour to make sure that all of those who bring us valuable insights and testimonies from the ground, alert us to evolving situations, and make useful recommendations can do so without any risk for themselves, their families or to their communities.

Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish you all a fruitful and constructive dialogue over the next two days and I encourage you to openly share ideas and experiences with the view to effectively contribute to the formulation of concrete recommendations for tangible actions.

The subject matter is important to all of us – after all we are all minorities somewhere.

Thank you.