Thematic Discussion On “Racist hate speech”, 28 August 2012, Palais des Nations, Conference room (tbc)

Background Note

1. Introduction

During its eighty-first session, to be held from 6 to 31 August 2012, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will hold a day of thematic discussion on racist hate speech in the context of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

According to article 4, States parties are required to penalize racist hate speech, including dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial hatred, acts of racially motivated violence and incitement to such acts.

Additionally, article 7 mandates measures ‘particularly in the fields of teaching, education, culture and information’ to combat prejudices that may lead to racial discrimination, and to promote a climate of tolerance. The provisions are interpreted in light of the Convention as a whole, including Article 5 which protects, inter alia, ‘the right to freedom of opinion and expression’. The Committee has noted throughout the years that racist hate speech is recurrent in the media, including the internet, in political discourse and other areas of public life, as well in social life including social activities such as sports. The Committee has repeatedly raised the issue of racist hate speech in its concluding observations and recommendations to States parties. It has identified the thematic debate as an additional initiative to contribute to the fight against racist hate speech.

2. Focus and objectives

According to article 4 of the Convention, States Parties shall condemn all propaganda and all organizations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form (…).
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has stressed the vital importance of combating racist hate speech. It has issued three General Recommendations related to article 4 of the Convention1 , where it recommended that “those States parties whose legislation does not satisfy the provisions of article 4 (a) and (b) of the Convention take the necessary steps with a view to satisfying the mandatory requirements of that article.”2 The Committee considered that “because threats and acts of racial violence easily lead to other such acts and generate an atmosphere of hostility, only immediate intervention can meet the obligations of effective response.” Furthermore, “in the opinion of the Committee, the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with the right to freedom of opinion and expression (…) embodied in article 5 (d) (iii) of the Convention (…) The citizen’s exercise of this right carries special duties and responsibilities, specified in article 29, paragraph 2, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among which the obligation not to disseminate racist ideas is of particular importance.”3 The Committee has also stressed the importance of non-discriminatory protection of freedom of speech and associated human rights.

The thematic debate aims to enhance understanding on the causes and consequences of racist hate speech, and how the resources in the Convention may be mobilised to combat it, through an exchange of information and experience, and an examination of progress made, challenges that remain, and lessons learned. 

3. Date and venue

The thematic discussion will take place in a plenary meeting at the Palais des Nations (Conference room to be confirmed), 8-14, avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneva, on 28 August 2012, from 10 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Interested States parties, United Nations bodies and specialized agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, and academia are invited to be present at the meeting, share their experience and express their views.

4. Participation

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also invites States parties, United Nations bodies and specialised agencies, United Nations human rights mechanisms, national human rights institutions, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and other relevant organizations and individuals to participate in the thematic discussion and to provide written information on the subject under discussion. Participants wishing to make a 3-minute oral intervention during the meeting should inform the Secretariat of the Committee and, in order to facilitate simultaneous interpretation and time management during the event, provide a written copy of their statement in advance.

Written contributions and statements may be submitted in English, French or Spanish. They should be sent to the Secretariat in electronic form to: (copy: by 20 August 2012.

5. Methodology

The format of the thematic discussion will consist of an inter-active dialogue following four presentations by invited panellists on specific themes:

  1. The concept of racist hate speech and its evolution over time
  2. Combating racist hate speech: the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  3. Racist hate speech and freedom of opinion and expression
  4. Racist hate speech in political life, and in the media including the internet

In addition to their oral presentation, and in order to facilitate simultaneous translation during the event, the panellists are requested to submit a written paper in advance (summary and written submission). Following the presentations made by the panellists, the floor will be opened for a discussion of panellists and participants. The format of the thematic day is meant to allow participants to exchange views in a frank and open dialogue. The Committee therefore asks participants to avoid reading out formal statements during the discussion day.

6. Outcome

The panel debate will serve to raise awareness on the causes and consequences of racist hate speech and will stimulate reflection on how to address this important issue for our times.

The Committee, in a subsequent session, will systematize and study the information obtained, proceed to debate and decide on further action to be taken, including continuing to highlight and issue recommendations on racist hate speech when examining the reports of States parties. The Committee will also reflect on the possibility of initiating the preparation of a General Recommendation on the subject of racist hate speech based on its understanding of article 4 and related articles in the Convention.

An informal summary of the debate will be posted on the OHCHR website.

7. Accreditation

Please fill out the below conference registration form and send it to the Secretariat by email:, (copy: or by Fax: (41 22) 917 9029 by 13 August 2012.

For further information on the thematic discussion, please contact the Secretariat of the Committee:



1/ CERD General Recommendation I (1972) on States parties obligations (Art. 4); General Recommendation VII (1985) on Legislation to eradicate racial discrimination (Art. 4); CERD General Recommendation XV (1993) on organized violence based on ethnic origin (Art. 4).

2/ General Recommendation VII (1985) , para.1

3/ CERD General Recommendation XV (1993), paras. 2 and 4.

Civil Society Consultation

 Joining hands to end racial discriminatiom, CERD Consultation with Civil Society 

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