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European States speak out at UN debate over hate speech

European States speak out at UN debate over hate speech

Yves Leterme, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium
Hate speech still has the potential to fan fears and tensions between peoples and to eventually lead to real bloodshed, European countries told the annual high-level segment of the General Assembly today, urging United Nations Member States to remain vigilant against the problem.

Belgium’s Foreign Minister Yves Leterme told the Assembly that any strategy for conflict prevention must begin with the banishment of any hate speech “attacking the dignity of human beings, of nations, communities, or the right of States to exist.”

In his address to the annual General Debate, held at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Leterme noted that “far too often we have witnessed what terrible bloodbaths were caused by incitement of hatred. That kind of speech can have no place in this hall and in this Organization, whose key task is to promote peace and security by constructive cooperation.”

He stressed that Belgium fully supports the principle of “responsibility to protect,” which requires governments to protect their citizens against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

“Our multilateral institutions need leaders and representatives of States who share basic approaches established on the unique dignity of each human being. National sovereignty implies responsibility.”

The concept of responsibility to protect has become critical, particularly following a surge of civil conflicts and serious human rights violations since the 1990s, Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milo Ðukanović said in his address yesterday.

Mr. Ðukanović backed the latest report of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the issue and called on Member States to reach agreement soon on the crafting of appropriate mechanisms within the UN to deal with the issue.

Miroslav Lajcák, Foreign Minister of Slovakia, said the international community was not focused enough on protecting civilians from war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

“We also cannot forget our obligation to prevent the incitement of those most serious crimes under international law and that this could be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), established for ending impunity for perpetrators of them,” he said.

Liechtenstein’s Foreign Minister Aurelia Frick described the ICC as proof that “over the last two decades multilateralism has perhaps been most successful in the area of international criminal justice.”

Ms. Frick said the court, which is based in The Hague in the Netherlands, has been remarkably successful in its early years and yet subject to controversial political discussions as well.

“This is not surprising, because justice can be difficult, and can seem inconvenient. That is particularly true in situations of ongoing conflict.”

Rumiana Jeleva, Bulgarian Foreign Minister, used her address to also warn that hate speech is still likely to generate fears and tensions between different racial, ethnic, national, religious or social groups.

“We therefore call for full compliance with human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Western Balkans,” she said, referring to a region where hate speech has frequently led to actual bloodshed during the past 20 years.

Austria’s Michael Spindelegger, who serves as his country’s Federal Minister for European and International Affairs, spoke out against what he said was “unacceptable remarks” by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his address to the General Assembly earlier this week.

“We reject any abuse of the UN General Assembly as a platform for intolerance, anti-Semitism and racial hatred.”

Mr. Spindelegger noted that with its position in the heart of Europe and at the crossroads of different cultures, religions and political systems for many years, Austria has tried in recent years to become a “platform for peace and dialogue,” playing host to UN offices and international negotiations to resolve long-running disputes.

Romanian Foreign Minister Cristian Diaconescu reiterated what he described as his country’s “fight against extremism, xenophobia and all forms of racism and discrimination.”

Mr. Diaconescu noted that his country was a strong supporter of multiculturalism, and inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, and therefore backed the Alliance of Civilizations.