The Right to be Free from the Harm of Hate Speech in International Human Rights Law (2014)

Working Paper #7

Mona Elbahtimy (PhD candidate at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge)

The current challenges posed by hate speech across the globe have prompted the need to better understand the evolution of the right to be free from the harm of hate speech as codified within Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This paper examines the right’s evolution within international human rights law (IHRL). Its purpose is to understand the core difficulties that have faced efforts geared to the development, strengthening and expansion of international standards that provide protection from the harm of hate speech. To elaborate upon such difficulties, the paper identifies four internal features of the right to be free from the harm of hate speech, representing the challenges facing its interpretation and implementation. These four features are the right’s ‘emotional’ component; the complexities in proving the proscribed incitement; the tensions between the listeners’ and speakers’ rights to liberty and equality; and the right’s group-identity component, which creates tensions between individual and group rights. The paper argues that these four internal features of the right have a strong and direct influence on understanding the difficult path the right has taken in its evolution within IHRL.