Investing in youth to counter hate speech In his message for this year’s World Refugee Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres affirmed, “Refugees need global solidarity and the ability to rebuild their lives in dignity.”

There is critical need for participation of young people, particularly girls and young women, indigenous youth, young people from minority communities, and young people with disabilities, as “crucial to create public and online spaces free from hate speech.”

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, in his message to mark the 3rd International Day for Countering Hate Speech on June 18, also said hate speech is a marker of discrimination, abuse, violence, conflict, and even crimes against humanity.

“As young people are often most affected by hate speech, particularly online, young people must be part of the solution,” he said.

“Governments, local authorities, religious, corporate and community leaders have a duty to invest in measures to promote tolerance, diversity and inclusivity, and to challenge hate speech in all its forms” he added.

Mr Guterres’ message was delivered by his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the UN Focal Point on Hate Speech, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, at the high-level commemoration event held at the UN headquarters in New York.

Co-organised by UN Office of Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco, the event focused on the engagement with youth leaders, listening to the voices of youth and investing in young people’s efforts to counter hate speech.

The role of the young people is also recognised in the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, which was launched five years ago by the Secretary General, providing a framework to tackle both the root causes and impacts of hate speech on societies.

Ms Nderitu said young people have “a powerful voice to speak up and act against hate speech. To ensure that hate speech is not disseminated and shared. And to take a stand when they see it.”

“The negative impact of hate speech on peace, sustainable development, human rights and the prevention of genocide and related crimes continues to be witnessed across the world. No region has been spared and the negative consequences for the victims targeted by such hate speech is devastating and long-lasting. This international day serves as a reminder of the importance of tackling hate speech, and it is a call for us all to do more,” added Ms Nderitu.

The president of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis said: “In all we do, we must reflect the values of harmony, tolerance, understanding and respect which is foundational to vibrant healthy societies resilient to violence. To succeed [in countering hate speech], we must engage the world’s 1,2 billion young people. They are often the first ones to be exposed to online hate as targets, victims, or bystanders. We must empower these new generations of digital citizens to recognise, reject and stand up to hate speech.”

The permanent representative of Morocco to the UN, Omar Hilale, said the day serves “more than a moment of contemplation, but is a real call to action to combat and counter hate speech that threatens the fundamentals of human rights and dignity, and undermines peace stability and development worldwide”, while sharing the example of Morocco’s strategy of involving youth at the heart of policies.

The panel discussion started with a feature of the voices of youth activists from across the world, stressing the challenges they face and activities they are carrying out to address them.

Panellists recognised the vicious cycle of hate speech, which causes damage on an individual level, starting with impacting children, and on a community level when it spreads, incites to violence, and can lead to conflicts.

Whilst young people, as heard during the event, are not just pointing out the problems, but are rising to the challenge, taking roles of responsibility, and sending out loud messages to the leaders in many corners of the world, they continue to face barriers, including in accessing platforms for decision-making and contributing thereto, and for accessing information, as well as education and technology.

Empowering young people with knowledge, tools, and opportunities, investing in their agency, and ensuring their safety and security as they claim the right to be part of the civic space remains not only one of the priorities across the United Nations system, but also an important tool that many stakeholders have at disposal for countering the insidious threat of hate speech across the world.

The International Day for Countering Hate Speech was created in 2021, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 75/309 on Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech. — Africa Renewal

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