Free speech: cornerstone of democracy, but not excuse for spreading hate speech
10 December 2021
We call for speech that shows full respect for the humanity and dignity of the other.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Although seemingly simple and straightforward, article 1 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration remains a far cry for many. Discrimination but also other violations of fundamental human rights remain a reality for too many people around the world today.
Respect for the human rights of all is fundamental for sustainable peace and inclusive development. This was so the case in 1948, when the Universal Declaration was adopted, and it remains so today. In his Call to Action for Human Rights last year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated that human rights are essential to addressing the causes and impact of today's complex crises, and to building sustainable, safe, and peaceful societies.
In tackling the challenges we face, everyone’s opinion and criticism count. Everyone deserves space to express views freely and without fear, though – as international human rights law states – with respect for the special duties and responsibilities this freedom carries, one of which is respect for the rights of others. Here we have noted a challenge, one that is not unique to Montenegro: hate speech. We have observed hate speech based on ethnicity, national identity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, political or religious affiliation. It denigrates, dehumanizes, discriminates and excludes. It has led to a few hate crimes. Hate speech can threaten peaceful societies as the Special Adviser on the Prevention Genocide, who leads the UN in tackling the phenomenon and who visited Montenegro in November, often warns about.
On the occasion of International Human Rights Day, the UN Country Team in Montenegro calls for more rather than less speech to counter the challenge that hate speech presents to our societies. We call for speech that shows full respect for the humanity and dignity of the other. And we ask leaders, may they be political, religious or otherwise, but also those who have influence, like traditional and the online media, to serve as examples. Let us all use this essential freedom for what it is meant – to create free, open, respectful societies in which everyone has an opportunity to take part, makes their voice heard and to ultimately contribute to a better life for all.