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Education a ‘powerful tool’ to counter hate speech, UN chief tells online forum

UNESCO says that hate speech is on the rise worldwide. Unsplash/Jon Tyson

Growing polarization and intolerance are fuelling a rise in hate speech worldwide, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday, in remarks to the opening of an online forum to counter this “global firestorm” through the power of education. 

The two-day event brings together teachers, youth, civil society organizations, human rights experts, tech and social media companies, and government representatives.

Mobilizing against hatred

“Across the globe, public discourse is being coarsened, democratic values threatened, and social cohesion undermined,” the UN chief said, while social media is contributing to hate speech being disseminated more quickly than previously imaginable.

“This is especially alarming when we consider that mass violence never arises in the absence of hate speech.  It is the fuel that allows the fire to ignite – and it is a direct threat our common cause of peace, stability, sustainable development and human dignity.”

The Secretary-General pointed to the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, which addresses the issue holistically, including root causes, drivers and the impact on victims and societies.

Respect for human rights

He said since its inception in the wake of the Second World War, the UN has worked to mobilize the world against hatred of all kinds, and to protect and defend human rights, adding that global efforts to tackle hate speech must be grounded in human rights.

“Our Strategy recognizes education as a powerful tool to address and counter hate speech, through its ability to instil values of respect for human rights and diversity, social justice and gender equality, as well as to provide learners with the critical thinking skills needed to challenge those that promote hatred”, he said.

The online forum was convened by the UN educational and scientific agency, UNESCO, and the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect.

Contributing to peace

It comes ahead of a Global Conference for Ministers of Education on 26 October to build consensus around strengthening education responses to hate speech and setting out concrete recommendations.

“The United Nations has committed to use education as a tool to address and counter hate speech. By fostering the provision of quality formal and informal education, we are also contributing to inclusivity and peace,” said Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.

“In particular, by amplifying positive messages and messages that educate on the dangers of hate, division and discrimination, especially in the countries and languages where hatred is most prevalent and at greater risk of causing offline violence.”

 

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