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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Jagland: After terrorist outrage in Norway, fighting hate speech is "personal"

Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland has made the fight against hate speech a “personal” mission after linking its spread to last year’s terrorist outrage in Norway which claimed 77 lives (more information).

Jagland said he would never forget the 22 July 2011 events in Oslo and Utøya and honoured the victims in his speech to a Budapest conference yesterday on the fight against hate speech, organised by the Council of Europe, the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway Grants.

The Secretary General said the 77 murdered by Anders Behring Breivik were “ victims of the ultimate consequence of hate speech. Utøya was a painful reminder that hate speech – online or offline is real.”

“Tackling Hate Speech: Living together online”

Speech by Thorbjørn Jagland
Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Budapest, 27 November 2012

Check against delivery

Dear Minister Balog,
Dear Deputy Minister Larsen,
Dear Friends,

It is an honour to be here today and to be part of an initiative which reinvigorates our continent’s resolve to combat hate speech, particularly in its online expression.

We have with us today many distinguished members of human rights organisations and institutions which actively promote democracy and the rule of law. Also with us are members of mainstream media as well as young bloggers and online activists.
Without a doubt, this is an important conference on a very important subject.

I would therefore like to express my gratitude to the Governments of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway for their generous financial support for the organisation of this conference through the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway Grants. I would also like to thank them for the excellent co-operation the Council of Europe enjoys with the EEA and Norway Grants.

Dear Friends,

Dealing with hate speech is an important issue for the Council of Europe.  But for me, and my Norwegian colleagues here today, it is much more than that: it is personal.

We will never forget what happened on the 22nd of July last year, in Oslo, at the main building of the government, and when the carefree, idyllic island of Utøya – the island where I met my wife – was ripped apart by a gunman's bullets.

Seventy-seven innocent civilians, most of them still in their teens, were killed that day.
Among them was fourteen year-old Sharidyn Svebakk-Bohn, known as Sissi, who had her own blog. Her last blog post, just two days before she was killed, advised other youngsters planning their first trip to the island on what clothes to bring.
Among those murdered was Trond Berntsen, a father-of-two and an off-duty police officer who succeeded in protecting his 10-year-old son but could do nothing to save himself.

Sissi, Trond and seventy-five others were killed on that tragic day because they believed in a Norway proud of its diversity. They saw in Norway an open society defined by tolerance and peace.

They were victims of the ultimate consequence of hate speech. Utøya was a painful reminder that hate speech - online or offline - is real.

It targets real people, leading to real tragedies. We need to become more aware of what hate speech is, where it comes from, and not least, how we can put a lid on it.

Dear Friends,

Freedom of expression goes hand in hand with the demands of a democratic society. It is a necessary condition for the enjoyment of our democratic ideals, providing space for public discussion and debate.

The European Court of Human Rights often points out that freedom of expression is also applicable to information or ideas “that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population because such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society”.

The rights of individuals to share their views freely and practice their religion – these rights are universal. It makes no difference whether they are exercised in a public square or on a Facebook profile.

Without a doubt, the internet and new technologies have been a force for good. As more people around the globe become connected, they see, read and hear more:  there are now more ways to spread more ideas to more people than at any moment in history.
Access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable. It generates new ideas. It inspires creativity and encourages entrepreneurship. The more freely information flows, the stronger societies become.

However, this freedom of expression cannot be unlimited.

We cannot ignore the dark side of the internet. What we say has consequences.

Hate speech – that is, incitement, spreading, or promoting racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance – directed against a person or a group of persons, threatens democratic stability. It also uproots our fundamental values laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Today, in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone or computer can circulate offensive opinions around the world with the click of a button, the challenges we now face are becoming increasingly tangled. 

Just as metals can be used in the building of hospitals or of tanks, and atomic energy used to light up a city or destroy it, modern information networks can be used for good or ill. For us or against us.

We saw this with the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ documentary, a crude video which stoked anger across the Middle East, leading to the deaths of dozens of people, including a U.S. Ambassador.

The video was an insult not only to Muslims, but to all Europeans as well.

The question, then, is how do we respond?  How do we strike the delicate balance between, on the one hand, clamping down on serious incitement to violent extremism and, on the other hand, the right of individuals to express their views freely?

First, we need to fine-tune our technological progress with the principles and ideals that we hold most dearly. As technology trundles forward, we must remember that the values that bind us together are the backbone of our shared society.

This challenge lies at the heart of the Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Strategy. Human rights, freedom of expression, privacy rights: this is the bread and butter of our Organisation. On-line and off-line.

As many of you know, our Internet Governance Strategy pinpoints key priorities to advance the protection of democracy and cultural diversity on the internet.

These priorities include maximising rights and freedoms for internet users but also enhancing the rule of law and facilitating effective co-operation against cybercrime.

Successfully synchronizing technology and our core values involves using the tools – such as our Internet Government Strategy – at our disposal and taking into account the specific features of the internet. We must avoid unnecessary restrictions that can smother innovation and hinder the free flow of information and knowledge. We need an open, inclusive and safe environment.

At the same time, we must also tackle the issue of anonymous hate speech.  We cannot allow a situation where those who propagate extremist views are able to separate their online actions from their real world identities.

Above all, however, if we are serious about our values, our ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of the crisis we are now facing. Online hate speech is not just the work of isolated individuals seeking attention. It is, more often than not, part of a larger anti-democratic programme, aimed at unravelling the democratic fabric of multicultural societies.

Too often we see how hate is spewed online by promoting homophobia and offending attitudes with regard to women, by spreading anti-Semitic stereotypes and by launching attacks on Roma communities – something this part of Europe knows all too well.

This is a testing time for all of us. We must not let hard-fought gains be swept away by emerging extremism and nationalism creeping out of cracks created by the economic crisis.

Second, we need to mobilise the vibrant forces of democratic society.
For some time now, the Council of Europe has been a pioneer in addressing the risks posed to democracy and human rights through the abuse of the possibilities offered by the expansion of the internet.

This has been facilitated through the Budapest Convention and its additional protocol but also the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and our work on internet governance.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce here that the Council of Europe will be launching a European campaign against hate speech online in March next year.

The idea for the campaign was conceptualised by the young people involved in the Advisory Council on Youth and is supported by the governmental partners of the Council of Europe.

Their sense of responsibility and urgency, at a young age, make me proud.

This is a very important campaign for us because it represents our readiness to act online and to claim the internet as a space for citizenship and participation for young people.

Our campaign will be about raising awareness but will also reflect our capacity to stand up for the rights and values that we believe in. Without fear, but also without naivety.

This campaign also links nicely with the co-operation we enjoy with EEA and Norway Grants, as the donors plan national training workshops for youth bloggers in each of the 15 beneficiary states, along the lines of the one held last week here in Budapest. The Council of Europe and its European Youth Centre will help organise these workshops.

Third, and finally, I believe that in order for us to win the battle against hate speech, political leaders must assume greater responsibility.

True democracy is hard work. But Europe’s leaders have a responsibility to explain to their citizens the situation as it really is. Namely, that our pluralist and multicultural societies are here to stay.

Europe has always been a continent of many religions and ethnic groups. We must not only accept the multicultural patch-work of our continent, we must embrace it.

It is time for us to adapt our mind-set, our mentality, and take value in the advantages that we can draw from our diversity.

Ultimately, the issue at stake here is not just how far we are willing to go to protect freedom of expression and tolerance. It is what kind of world we want to live in.
Dear friends,

Above all, we must never be indifferent to hate and discrimination.

As Elie Wiesel, the winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, once said:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”

We may be different, but we must never become indifferent.

I look forward to the proposals and projects that will emerge from your work. And I look forward to working with you – with all of you - to put them into practice together.

Thank you.


  1. Human rights refers to the universal rights of people regardless of jurisdiction or other factors, such as ethnicity, age, nationality, sexual orientation or religion.
    The idea of human rights descended from the philosophical idea of natural rights; some recognize virtually no difference between the two and regard both as labels for the same thing while others choose to keep the terms separate to eliminate association with some features traditionally associated with natural rights...

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