Guest post on Amnesty International and international standards

Michael De Dora wrote this as a comment on a public Facebook post I did of the 2006 statement by Amnesty International. He gave me permission to publish it here, which is good, since this is his subject.

In particular, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence cannot be considered legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. Under international standards, such “hate speech” should be prohibited by law.

This is, for me, the most interesting part of the statement. It is actually true that international standards state “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” See Article 20 of the ICCPR.

However, that has long been problematic language for many human rights organizations, and even some states. For instance, the U.S. signed onto the ICCPR, but issued a reservation on Article 20 due to concerns that it would conflict with the right to free speech.

Indeed, the language in Article 20 has been abused by many states to restrict free speech. For instance, Indonesian atheist Alexander Aan was convicted for inciting religious hatred. So it is strange Amnesty would support it — especially in reference to the Danish cartoons, which would not meet the standard.

There was an excellent UN document released in early 2013 that details the high wall speech must breech to be considered incitement, called the Rabat Plan of Action. It makes clear that blasphemous speech does not count as incitement. I encourage everyone to read it:…/Pages/TheRabatPlanofAction.aspx…/SeminarR…/Rabat_draft_outcome.pdf

I would also suggest taking a look at General Comment 34, especially Paragraph 48, by the Human Rights Committee, a group of experts who interpret the ICCPR.

I would say Amnesty has an out because Rabat wasn’t published until 2013 (GC 34 was published in 2011). But the problems with Article 20 were known well before 2013 or 2011. In fact, that’s why Rabat was published — to help clear up that states cannot use Article 20 to restrict speech as they had been doing, and propose a helpful plan of action. And so, this statement, if accurate, is confusing at best, inexcusable at worst.


  1. wannabe says

    Ophelia, your two links regarding the Rabat plan are broken. (Remove this when fixed.)

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