The UN’s new role in addressing ‘hate speech’

This paper looks at the significance of the UN’s emerging role in addressing ‘hate speech’. Though UN human rights bodies have traditionally avoided the term, since 2019, there has been a discernible shift towards tackling ‘hate speech’ as such, as the or a subject of the outputs of various UN actors. At the heart of this trend is the UN’s systemwide Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech launched by the Secretary-General in June 2019. This paper critically examines the nature of, motivations for and consequences of the trend towards tackling ‘hate speech’ by the UN system. It argues that, while this development should not be used to legitimise broad legal restrictions on ‘hate speech’, it does pave the way for advancing a common and layered understanding of the term together with a new emphasis upon non-legal approaches in response, to potentially great benefit.