IPOL | Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs
112 PE 655.135
4.1. The international standards
There is a global consensus that incitement to hatred needs to be prohibited by criminal law. Specific
human rights bodies like CERD have a wider scope perspective of hate speech which they recommend
to prohibit, although their focus is primarily on discriminative actions. ECRI has issued several
meaningful recommendations on specific aspects of hate speech and how to combat it.
Recent actions and soft law instruments by the international bodies have expressed concern for the
growing level of hate speech in particular in the mainstream political discourse. 412 In particular, ECRI
General Policy Recommendation No. 15 called attention to the responsibility of parliamentary
representatives and state officials in letting extremism and intolerance infiltrate into the highest level
of public administration.
"employment of a rude tone in many parliaments and by state officials has been found to contribute
to a public discourse that is increasingly offensive and intolerant. Such discourse has been
exacerbated by some high-level politicians not being inhibited from using hate speech in their
The ECtHR, in its case law on hate speech, paid particular attention to the factors of the speaker and
the context of the speech. It repeatedly declared that persons who are role models in a society, such as
a football player, a teacher or a politician, owe an enhanced duty to refrain from using or advocating
racial discrimination (Féret v. Belgium414). Regarding the context of the speech, the Court found that the
underlying social context would largely define the potential impact of the speech, its threat on human
rights. Thus, it accepted a more restrictive approach, that is, a lower threshold of hate speech
restriction, in states with more intense social tensions surrounding the discussed phenomenon
(Perinçek v. Switzerland415).
In legal philosophy, discourse is taking place about the boundaries of freedom of expression in the light
of hate speech. One alternative view is that hate speech should be regarded as harmful without
examination of its potential effect because it abstractly undermines the dignity of the targeted
persons, and damages social equality, cohesion and mutual trust in society.416 Another meaningful idea
is that in a long-standing, prosperous, stable democracy hate speech should be fought against with
genuine social actions, because they possess ample "legal, institutional, educational, and material
resources to admit all viewpoints into the public discourse, and yet remain adequately equipped to
protect vulnerable groups from violence or discrimination"417 and such a natural shield would make
criminal hate speech provisions superfluous. The results of the study however, do not support the
ECRI General Policy Recommendation No. 15 on Combating Hate Speech (2015) ECRI Declaration on the use of racist, antise mitic and
xenophobic elements in political discourse (2005), the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious
hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence and case law of the ECtHR (Féret v. Belgium, Seurot v. Fran ce).
ECRI General Policy Recommendation N°15 on combating hate speech – adopted on 8 December 2015
ECtHR, Féret v. Belgium, Application no.: 15615/07, 16 July 2009.
ECtHR, Perinçek v. Switzerland, Application no.: 27510/08, 17 December 2013.
Waldron, J., ‘Protecting Dignity or Protection from Offense?’, In The Harm in Hate Speech, Harvard University Press, Cambridge,
Massachusetts; London, England, 2012, pp. 105-143. Retrieved June 17, 2020, available at
Id. p. 44.