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Report OSCE conference on racism on the internet

30 June, 2004

Is there any proven link between hate speech on the Internet and committed hate crimes ? This was the difficult question faced by a meeting organised by OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) on the relationship between racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and hate crimes, which was held in Paris on 16-17 June 2004. The answer to this question is of high political importance since it could impact the U.S. position and legislation, which protects free speech - be it hate speech - under the First amendment.

The OSCE meeting, which was held in preparation of a further OSCE conference on the same issue to be held by the end of this year in Brussels, did not provide a definitive answer to this question. While the French representatives presented the direct relationship between hate speech and hate crime as obvious - without providing any evidence, however -, the U.S. representatives made it clear that only crime, not speech can lead to prosecution under U.S. legislation. Between these two extreme positions, most of the participants to the meeting called for in-depth research on this issue, so that the critical question raised by the OSCE could be discussed on a sound basis.

The meeting ended with the usual 'commitment to combat hate crimes', stressing 'the importance of promoting tolerance, mutual respect, dialogue, and understanding'. The conclusions presented by the chair of the meeting also report that the participants "agreed to promote, where appropriate under existing national legislation, areas of additional co-operation, particularly voluntary initiatives by NGOs, religious associations and/or other groups directed toward researching and monitoring racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda and incitement to violence on the Internet."

Unfortunately, the use of filtering software and other soft law instruments like hotlines and codes of conducts did not raise any discussion among the participants of the official sessions, while many civil liberty organisations, librarians, and other researchers have shown, through a number of well documented reports, how these practices and instruments may also lead to violations of internationally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Conference information and documents from speakers (16-17.06.2004)

Seminar held today by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (30.06.2004):'Guaranteeing Media Freedom on the Internet'

BBC: 'Internet's role in racism debated' (16.06.2004)

Interview with Meryem Marzouki (in French)(17.06.2004) 'Filtering racist content leads to ignore it and prevents from fighting it'

(Contribution by Meryem Marzouki, EDRI-member IRIS)



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