The Council of Europe, Europe's top human rights institution, has urged its members to adopt specific guidelines to curb hate speech and to support those targeted by it.
A report by the council’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) that was made public Monday lists a number of policy recommendations including the withdrawal of financial support from political parties that actively employ hate speech, criminalizing its most extreme manifestations, and promoting self-regulation of media.
The recommendations to the 47 members of the Council of Europe were published on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, on Monday.
The report urges media organizations to adopt a code of conduct aimed at eliminating hate speech, accompanied by sanctions for non-compliance.
“When necessary, the deletion of hate speech from web materials, the disclosure of the identity of hate speech users, and the obligation of media to publish acknowledgments that something they ran constitutes hate speech should be required,” the report said.
Withdrawing all financial and other state support from political parties or other groups using hate speech, and eventually prohibiting or dissolving such groups was another recommendation of ECRI.
“In the most serious cases, criminal prohibitions and penalties are necessary, but they should be used as a measure of last resort. All along, a balance must be kept between fighting hate speech on the one hand, and safeguarding freedom of speech on the other,” it said.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland warned against selective and arbitrary application of sanctions.
“Anti-hate speech measures must be well-founded, proportionate, non-discriminatory, and must not be used to curb freedoms of expression or assembly,” he said.
The council also emphasized the importance of education and counter-speech in fighting the misconceptions and misinformation that form the basis of hate speech.
Governments, the council said, should also provide practical support to those targeted by hate speech.
“They should be made aware of their rights, receive legal and psychological assistance, be encouraged to report the use of hate speech and to bring proceedings to court, with the assistance of equality bodies and non-governmental organizations,” said ECRI’s Chair Christian Ahlund.
ECRI has since 2013 targeted the use of hate speech against vulnerable groups.