The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has adopted a General Policy Recommendation addressed to all 47 member States of the Council of Europe on combating hate speech. The Recommendation focuses on the phenomenon of hate speech and the damaging consequences of its use. It sets out what should be understood to constitute hate speech and identifies the measures that can and need to be taken to combat its use. In so doing, it builds upon and substantially strengthens existing European and international standards.
The starting point for the Recommendation is the recognition of the fundamental importance of freedom of expression, tolerance and respect for equal dignity, all of which are guaranteed under numerous international instruments accepted by member States of the Council of Europe. As hate speech can in some cases be effectively responded to without restricting freedom of expression, the Recommendation has a graduated approach to the measures that need to be undertaken: raising public awareness; countering any use of hate speech; providing support to those targeted by such use; promoting self-regulation; taking regulatory action; imposing administrative and civil liability; withdrawing support from particular organisations and prohibiting others; and imposing criminal sanctions in some very specific and limited circumstances. In underlining that the use of criminal sanctions should not be the primary focus of action against the use of hate speech, the Recommendation emphasises that addressing the conditions conducive to the use of hate speech and vigorously countering such use are much more likely to prove effective in ultimately eradicating such use.
The Recommendation is addressed to the governments of Council of Europe member States and is expected to become the key European standard regarding efforts to combat the use of hate speech. Its effective implementation will require the involvement and commitment of a wide range of private and non-governmental actors.
Although the Recommendation is particularly concerned with the use of hate speech falling within ECRI’s work, its provisions are envisaged as being applicable to all forms of such speech, i.e., on grounds additional to “race”, colour, language, religion, nationality, national or ethnic origin, gender identity or sexual orientation.