• English

Mali: Independent rights experts call for probe into Wagner Group’s alleged crimes

The rights experts – who include the UN Working Group on Mercenaries – said that a “climate of terror and complete impunity” has surrounded Wagner’s activities in the northwest African country.

Tweet URL

Systematic killings

“We are particularly worried by credible reports that over the course of several days in late March 2022, Malian armed forces accompanied by military personnel believed to belong to the Wagner Group, executed several hundred people, who had been rounded up in Moura, a village in central Mali,” the UN experts said.

Founded by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group is also widely reported to be involved in fighting in Ukraine, having recruited thousands of convicts from Russian jails.

Concerns about the Wagner Group have surfaced elsewhere in recent months, too, notably in the Central African Republic (CAR), where the UN human rights office OHCHR, published information indicating that the mercenaries were among those “committing systemic and grave human rights and international humanitarian law violations, including arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances and summary execution, a pattern that continues unabated and unpunished”.

UN-appointed independent rights experts said that they had also received reports that Wagner Group officers committed rape and sexual violence against women, men, and young girls across CAR.

“It is not clear how many people have been victims of sexual violence because survivors are terrified to bring their cases to justice for fear of retaliation,” they said.

Peuhl minority targeted

In addition to the alleged involvement of the Wagner Group in Mali’s Moura atrocity, the experts said that there were also persistent and credible accounts of multiple serious rights violations committed against mainly ethnic Peuhl individuals.

These include torture, rape, pillaging, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances.

State-sanctioned violence

In a statement, the rights experts expressed concern at the “increased outsourcing of traditional military functions” to the Wagner Group in Mali, where the Government has been fighting a jihadist insurgency in north and central regions, for years.

The experts added that the private contractors had also carried out counter-terrorism operations, including in Nia Ouro, Gouni and Fakala, before urging the Malian authorities to prohibit private individuals from taking part in hostilities.

“The use of mercenaries, mercenary-like actors and private security and military companies only exacerbates the cycle of violence and impunity prevailing in the country,” the experts insisted.

Victims of the Wagner Group have faced significant challenges in accessing justice and remedy for the human rights abuses, including sexual violence, and related crimes committed against them, the experts said, “particularly in light of the secrecy and opacity surrounding Wagner’s activities in Mali”.

Afraid to speak out

The experts added that the threat of reprisals against those daring to speak out had also created “an overall climate of terror and complete impunity for victims of the Wagner Group’s abuses”.

Soundcloud

In an exclusive interview with UN News, the UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) representative in Mali, Mohamed Touré, explained that jihadists continue to terrorise and target civilians in rural areas on a daily basis.

Mr. Touré was speaking after a recent attack on N’Tillit village in northern Mali, forcing more than 3,700 Burkinabé refugees and local Malians to flee to Gao, the nearest city located 120 kilometres away.

The majority of displaced are women and children who walked for hours without food, fearing for their lives to find safety, the UNHCR official said. 

#Mali: UN experts call for independent investigation into possible international crimes committed by Government forces and “Wagner group”
👉https://t.co/6HXTdJAKI5 https://t.co/xJz1xOc6is

Deny legitimacy of Myanmar’s military junta, UN expert urges

The State Administration Council (SAC) is illegal and illegitimate, Special Rapporteur Thomas Andrews said at the launch, co-hosted by the democracy and electoral assistance body, International IDEA.

Tweet URL

He called on the international community to stand firm against military rule, create a coalition of Member States to enforce strong, coordinated sanctions, and support the democratic National Unity Government, which has a stronger claim to legitimacy.

“Two years ago, the military deposed a democratically elected government in an unconstitutional coup,” the Special Rapporteur said, presenting his new report Illegal and Illegitimate: Examining the Myanmar Military’s Claim as the Government of Myanmar and the International Response.

The unrelenting violence that it unleashed on the people of Myanmar has created a widespread human rights, humanitarian, and economic crisis and galvanized nationwide opposition.”

Sanctions, aid sorely needed

The conclusion is clear, he said, “the SAC’s military coup was illegal and its claim as Myanmar’s Government is illegitimate.” Indeed, a new, coordinated international response to the crisis is imperative” ahead of the “sham elections” being planned, he continued.

He urged all Member States, particularly those that have already imposed costs on the junta, to initiate a strategic approach to strengthen, coordinate and enforce economic sanctions and an arms embargo on the SAC and provide more robust humanitarian aid to the millions in desperate need.”

At the launch, International IDEA presented its latest policy paper Elections at a crossing point: Considerations for electoral design in post-coup Myanmar.

It outlines key areas to consider for genuine democratic elections in the emerging new constitutional context, including the overall electoral legal framework, voter registration, and electoral dispute resolution.

‘Devastating’ situation on ground

Other top UN officials had issued urgent calls, including the UN Secretary-General.

In an interview with UN News, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer outlined the current situation on the ground. Citing recent reports, she said 17.5 million people require humanitarian aid in 2023, compared with 1 million before the takeover.

“The impacts on both the country and the people have been devastating,” she said. “The people on the ground are very clear that the humanitarian crisis is due to a political crisis.”

The World Bank reported that 40 per cent of the population lives under the poverty line, she said. In addition, 15.2 million people were currently food insecure and more than 34,000 civilian structures had been burned in the past two years.

Special Envoy Noeleen Heyzer meets with women at the UN Women/Action Aid’s women community centre in Cox’s Bazar on 23 August 2022.
OSE-Myanmar

Special Envoy Noeleen Heyzer meets with women at the UN Women/Action Aid’s women community centre in Cox’s Bazar on 23 August 2022.

Catastrophic human suffering

“It is a catastrophe in terms of human suffering, and this has regional and international implications,” the Special Envoy said.

Noting that the recent adoption of the Security Council resolution 2669 (2022) marked the first time the organ recognized Myanmar since its independence, she said it also reflected unprecedented international unity and support around extremely urgent issues.

Calls for urgent action

The Special Envoy called for greater unity and commitment among the international community in three key areas: scaling up aid efforts among partners; forging a unified position on possible elections and the implementation of civilian protection measures.

“It is inconceivable any form of peaceful and democratic transition can be initiated by those perpetrating harm on their own citizens,” she said. “The violence has to stop, including the aerial bombings and burning of civilian infrastructure along with military’s ongoing arrests of political leaders, civil society actors and journalists.”

As Myanmar crisis enters third year, Special Envoy Heyzer urgently calls for international unity on humanitarian aid, stance on elections and civilian protection.
https://t.co/6ob9yHpyen https://t.co/ILOjQ9SwiB

Libya: human rights abuses must be addressed, says UN probe

The UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya was established by the Human Rights Council in June 2020, to investigate alleged abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed in Libya since 2016.

Tweet URL

The panel’s latest official visit to Libya which ended on Sunday heard testimony from victims’ relatives of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, human trafficking, internal displacement, the existence of mass burial sites and morgues containing corpses that families cannot access.

Justice long overdue

“The families of these victims have waited far too long for justice,” said Mohammad Auajjar, Chair of the FFM, which also includes fellow independent human rights experts, Tracy Robinson and Chaloka Beyani. “Libyan authorities owe it to them to share information about their loved ones, to meet them and give them answers. Silence is unacceptable.”

“We, too, have asked repeatedly for answers to the status of multiple investigations concerning serious human rights violations, but to date there has been no satisfactory response,” Mr. Auajjar added.

Ms. Robinson maintained that the State’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law “have not produced justice for the victims and their families”.

Call for release of Iftikhar Boudra

They also called for the immediate release of Iftikhar Boudra, who was detained in Benghazi four years ago, following critical comments she made on social media about militarization in eastern Libya.

Ms. Boudra is reportedly critically ill and her relatives say that they have not been allowed to visit her for months.

The Mission thanked the Libyan Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Libyan Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, for facilitating its visit, which included meetings with other senior officials including the Chief of General Staff of the Libyan Armed Forces, and the President of the Supreme Judicial Council.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan visits the landfill site in Tarhunah, Libya, where over 250 have been identified across a number of mass graves.
© ICC

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan visits the landfill site in Tarhunah, Libya, where over 250 have been identified across a number of mass graves.

Mission continues

The FFM welcomed the invitation from high-ranking Government officials to continue its investigations and its cooperation with the internationally-recognized Government.

The Fact-Finding Mission was established by the Human Rights Council in June 2020 with a mandate to investigate alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed in Libya since 2016.

🇱🇾#LIBYA “The families of these victims have waited far too long justice,” Mohammad Auajjar, chair of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission for Libya, said after hearing testimony of serious #humanrights violations in #Tripoli last week. Full Statement➡️ https://t.co/z19XDcrgmD https://t.co/4h9CxiXNet

Two years on from Myanmar military coup, UN chief stresses international unity, as arrests, airstrikes continue

Ahead of 1 February – marking two years since the military overturned and arbitrarily detained members of the democratically elected civilian Government, including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – the Secretary-General, in a statement issued by his Spokesperson, raised several concerns.

Tweet URL

He also condemned all forms of violence as the multidimensional crisis in Myanmar continues to deteriorate and fuel serious regional implications.

Imprisonment, aerial bombardment

Drawing attention to the military’s stated intention to hold elections, he highlighted intensifying aerial bombardment and burning of civilian houses, along with ongoing arrests, intimidation and harassment of political leaders, civil society actors and journalists.

In this vein, he said without conditions permitting the people of Myanmar to freely exercise their political rights, “the proposed polls risk exacerbating instability.”

He said he continued to stand in solidarity with the Burmese people and to support to their democratic aspirations for an inclusive, peaceful and just society, alongside the protection of all communities, including the mainly Muslim Rohingya minority.

In this regard, he said “the United Nations is committed to staying in Myanmar and addressing the multiple vulnerabilities arising from the military’s actions since February 2021.” However, this requires full and unhindered access to all affected communities as well as prioritizing the safety and security of UN agencies and humanitarian partners, he added.

Security Council resolution

In light of these and other issues, he welcomed the 21 December 2022 adoption of Security Council resolution 2669 (2022) as an important step and underlined the urgency for strengthened international unity.

It demands an immediate end to violence, increased restraint on all sides, and the release of those arbitrarily detained.

As such, his Special Envoy Noeleen Heyzer will coordinate closely with the new Special Envoy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Chair to engage intensively with all relevant parties in Myanmar to achieve an end to the violence and to support a return to democracy.

Wednesday marks two years since the Myanmar military overturned & arbitrarily detained members of the democratically elected civilian Government. @antonioguterres continues to stand in solidarity with the people of Myanmar. Full statement 👇
https://t.co/OXTaOCSdhp

Hate Speech: Turning the tide

The rise and impact of hate speech is being amplified, at an unprecedented scale, by new communications technologies, one of the most common ways of spreading divisive rhetoric on a global scale, threatening peace around the world.

According to leading international human rights organization, Minority Rights Group, one analysis records a 400-fold increase in the use of hate terms online in Pakistan between 2011 and 2021.

Being able to monitor hate speech makes can provide valuable information for authorities to predict future crimes or to take measures afterwards.

The Sentinel Project is a Canadian non-profit organization who’s Hatebase initiative monitors the trigger words that appear on various platforms and risk morphing into real-world violence. Chris Tucker, the executive director of the Sentinel Project, describes it as an “early warning indicator that can help us to identify an increased risk of violence”.

It works by monitoring online spaces, especially Twitter, looking for certain keywords, in several different languages, and then applying certain contextual rules to determine what was or was not most likely to be actually hateful content.

The database is available to many other organisations, from academia, NGOs, and the UN to individual researchers or civil society organisations that use the data for their own purposes.

Soundcloud

‘Hate speech loads the gun, misinformation pulls the trigger’

For Mr Tucker, hate speech and misinformation are closely related: “Hate speech loads the gun, misinformation pulls the trigger. And that’s the kind of the relationship that we’ve come to understand over the years”. It’s now theoretically possible for any human being who can access an Internet connexion to become a producer of that sort of content. And so that really does change things, and with a global reach.”

Another organization doing a similar kind of hate speech mapping is the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

The Network monitors every single trial related to war crime atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and amounts to 700 open cases. In mapping hate it looks out for four different aspects; hateful narratives by politicians, discriminatory language, atrocity denial and actual incidents on the ground where minority groups have been attacked.

According to Dennis Gillick the executive director and editor of their branch in Bosnia and Herzegovina the primarily drivers of hate narratives in the country are populist, ethno-nationalist politicians.

UNiting Against Hate Podcast
United Nations

“The idea behind the entire mapping process is to prove the correlation between political statements and political drivers of hate and the actual atrocities that take place,” says Mr Gillick.

The Network also want to prove that there is a lack of systematic prosecution of hate crimes and that the hateful language allows for this perpetuating circle of violence, with more discriminatory language by politicians and fewer prosecutions.

“As a result of hate speech, we have seen a rising number of far-right groups being mobilised,” explains Mr Gillick. “We are seeing fake NGOs or fake humanitarian groups being mobilized to spread hateful or discriminatory language, in order to expand this gap between the three different ethnic and religious groups in this country.”

The real-life consequences reported by the Network have included defacing or vandalizing mosques, or churches, depending on where a specific faith group is in the minority, and open calls to violence.

According to Mr. Gillick, this is fuelling the agenda of ethno-nationalist parties who want to cause divisions.

In San Francisco in the United States, demonstrators take to the streets to protest against the rise of race-related hate crimes against people of Asian descent.
Unsplash/Jason Leung

San Francisco demonstration against the rise of ant-Asian hate crimes (file)

Changing the narrative

The way to combat this toxic environment, according to Mr. Gillick, is to create counter-narratives, disseminating accurate, factual information and stories that promote unity rather than division.

However, he acknowledges that this is a big ask. “It is difficult to counter public broadcasters, big media outlets with several hundred journalists and reporters with thousands of flights a day, with a group of 10 to 15 journalists who are trying to write about very specific topics, in a different way, and to do the analytical and investigative reporting.”

One organization that is trying to create counter-narratives is Kirkuk Now, an independent media outlet in Iraq, which is trying to produce objective and quality content on these groups and share it on social media platforms.

“Our focus is on minorities, internally displaced people (IDPs), women and children and, of course, freedom of expression,” says editor-in-chief of Kirkuk now, Salaam Omer. “We see very little content [about them] in the Iraqi media mainstream. And if they are actually depicted, they are depicted as problems,” Mr Omer says.

In Pakistan, where certain religious or faith-based groups are very vulnerable – in particular Ahmadis and Shia and then Hindus and Christians – Bytes for All, a human rights organization and think tank, launched an online to counter hate speech.

The campaign sought pledges from different organisations in Pakistan and the public to amplify the message. It was launched in 2021 on Twitter, where it became one of the top ten trends in the country.

The next phase involved creating video messages highlighting the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan, and university roadshows, to engage with young people.

The campaign targeted those aged between 15 and 35, who make up a majority of Pakistan’s population because, says Mr. Baloch, “they were actually the people who were using social media platforms, engaged in spewing hate speech, and exposed to hateful messages as well”.

A group of people advocate against hate and discrimination based on ethnicity and religion in the Central African Republic. (2017)
OCHA/Yaye Nabo Sène

Young people in the Central African Republic with a sign in French reading “No to Hate”

Long-term solutions

There is a widespread belief that social media companies must be made responsible for the content they carry, and sanctioned if hate speech is spread on their platforms but, for Claire Thomas, deputy director of international NGO Minority Rights Group, this is not a long-term solution to the problem.

“What we saw in Myanmar was that when Facebook started to effectively police what was on its platform, the hate speech in Myanmar moved to Tik Tok. When you have multiple platforms with very large audiences, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. When you think about where those platforms are based and what jurisdictions have control over them, our ability to make them police their own content effectively is really quite limited”.

In Ms. Thomas’s view, there should be more of a focus on educating people on the dangers and damaging effects of hate speech, and ensuring that they have greater access to balanced content.

“Now, I know that’s a huge undertaking, and many people don’t believe that it’s possible”, she admits, “but for me, it’s where we should try to put our efforts moving forward.”

UNiting Against Hate, episode 3
United Nations

‘Hate speech is profitable’

For Tendayi Achiume, a former independent UN human rights expert, more attention needs to be paid to the business models of social media companies. “A lot of the time people want to talk about content moderation, what should be allowed on these platforms, without paying close attention to the political economy of these social media platforms. And it turns out hate speech is profitable”.

Ms. Achiume argues that there is an urgent need to create spaces where people with different opinions can connect. At the same time, she says that a wider conversation needs to take place, regarding the way in which people are represented in the media and online.

“The ways in which our worlds are formed are really complex. And I think that the dialogues have to be positioned side by side with all of the other ways our worlds and our relationships are constructed.”

You can subscribe to our UN Podcasts series, UNiting Against Hate, here.

Hate speech: Nations fight back

Costa Rica is known for its strong democracy, pro-human rights stance, and deep respect of the rule of law, so it was a shock when the 2018 general elections ushered in an unprecedented polarization of Costa Rican society.

Allegra Baiocchi, the UN resident coordinator in Costa Rica, witnessed the unprecedented polarization of society, and the strong advance of populist and conservative agendas, which was accompanied by a sharp rise in hate speech, and expressions of discrimination and xenophobia.

The landscape in the municipality of Acosta; Costa Rica which was populated 2000 years ago by indigenous groups and today by people who are dedicated to agriculture.
UN Costa Rica/Danilo Mora

Acosta; Costa Rica (file)

A study of hate

In response to this alarming trend, the UN team in Costa Rica began the roll out of its Action Plan on Hate Speech and, in 2021, presented a landmark study on hate speech in Costa Rica.

“When we started working on this issue we had a lot of conversations about the defence of free speech, and countering hate speech and discrimination”, says Ms. Baiocchi. “We know that there’s a danger that the fight against hate speech is used to restrict the freedom of expression, freedom of opinion”.

Ms. Baiocchi and her team realised that a great deal of content was focused on women, particularly those in leadership positions; LGBTQ issues; and the migrant population. “When we started speaking to women and some of the people who had been targeted, they told us that they felt scared, scared to express their opinions”, she says.

A big issue, according the senior UN official, is that the digital space is considered a free space for all with no accountability. Initially, the team tried to increase accountability, whether simply through the reporting of hate speech or discrimination on the platforms themselves, or using whatever legal basis there is in different countries.

But after meeting with Meta, the owner of Facebook, they realized that, even though the company is investing in mediating and cleaning up conversations, the task is overwhelming, and that Meta is not able to protect or limit everything that is posted on its platforms.

The Costa Rica study also looked at the dual role of the press, in relation to hate speech. “We’ve had cases where the media have on one hand been the victims of hate speech, for investigating cases or criticising the government, but on the other hand have covered stories in a way that can incite discrimination and hate speech.

Children wearing “United Against Hate” t-shirts appear at an interfaith gathering at the Park East Synagogue in New York City in memory of Jewish worshipers who were killed in Pittsburgh in the United States. (31 October 2018)
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Children at an interfaith gathering at the Park East Synagogue, New York (file)

Improved protection

One of the outcomes of the study in Costa Rica was the forming of a partnership with the Lawyers Committee Association, who studied the legal and judicial jurisdiction around hate speech which is evolving around the world.

The group looked at which countries have the best kind of jurisprudence and helped create a manual covering the existing jurisprudence that can help victims.

“Right now in Costa Rica, if you’ve been a victim of hate speech, you can go to this handbook and see what is already available for you to protect yourself,” explains Ms Baiocchi, adding that, in her view, the parliament has been a huge ally, passing a law focusing on protecting women in politics.

“A lot of schools also teach debate and it is really about how we can co-exist in the world with different opinions”, says Ms. Baiocchi. “I think that’s fundamentally the message behind any work on hate speech and discrimination. This is about being able to respect each other and coexist.”

Soundcloud

Listen, question, learn

Education and literacy is a cornerstone of the approach taken by the media development organization “Transitions”, which is based in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.

Jaroslav Valuch, a news literacy and fact-checking project manager at the organization, explains that Transitions supports good quality journalism, and works on media literacy with neglected groups to prevent conflict, and improve people’s resilience to disinformation hoaxes and hate speech.

“If we make people more resilient to this type of disinformation, we might be able to counter or prevent violent radicalization. The problem with schools and the educational system, is that it takes a long time to change the curricula, to change the system. We needed some interventions that could be implemented immediately.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the sector of society that Transitions has identified as particularly prone to disinformation, is its elderly citizens. This is because, according to Mr. Varuch, they feel excluded from society, spreading disinformation via chain emails or private messages.

“They feel underserved,” he asserts. “They feel that the topics that are important to them are not covered in the mainstream media. And all of these are very valid and relevant concerns. They use this information and hate speech as a kind of stick to beat the system or the government, to make them listen to their concerns”.

To counter the issue, Transitions holds workshops in public libraries, which are widely used by seniors. At these sessions, participants learn basic investigation methods, learning to look more closely at the source of the information they receive, and spread.

“The ultimate goal is not necessarily to tell them not to spread fake news or distrust sources,” says Mr. Varuch. “It’s rather to say ‘Hey, let’s enjoy some time together’. And, as a by-product, we make them more resilient towards disinformation and propaganda.”

The programme has now been so successful that is working all over the Czech Republic, as well as in neighbouring countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

You can subscribe to our UN Podcasts series, UNiting Against Hate, here.

‘All sides need to think about the future they want for Venezuela’, says UN human rights chief

“Following my meeting with President [Nicolás] Maduro, he publicly expressed his readiness to work towards improving the justice system. This is a key area for reform, and I offer the support and expertise of my Office to pursue this,” Volker Türk told reporters in Caracas at the end of his three-day visit. 

In addition to Mr. Maduro, the UN human rights chief also met with Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez, senior government officials, judicial leaders, opposition figures, civil society actors, indigenous peoples and victims of human rights violations. He came away from these discussions with a sense that all parties recognized the need for reforms. 

The High Commissioner said he had also perceived the need for national and international actors and the UN to help Venezuela to overcome its crises. “And also, importantly, the chance to begin to overcome the deep divisions and rebuild the social contract among Venezuelans,” he added.  

‘Frank conversations’ on reforms and building trust 

“During frank conversations with the authorities, I raised issues relating to civic space, conditions of detention and judicial delays, among others, encouraging them to take meaningful steps towards reforming the justice and security sectors,” said Mr. Türk in a press release issued by the UN human rights office, or OHCHR, which he heads up. 

He also encouraged the authorities to take the lead in building trust with victims and civil society organizations, to listen to them, to include them meaningfully in dialogue and respond to the plight of the victims. 

To this end, the High Commissioner said that during his visit he had heard accounts of people being arbitrarily detained and tortured, and of family members being killed in security operations and demonstrations. One woman, he said, was overcome with emotion, he explained, as she recounted how two years ago her sister had been detained, raped, and tortured.  

Tweet URL

‘End torture once and for all’ 

“In my meetings with the President and ministers, I called for all people who have been arbitrarily detained to be released. This also forms part of my global call to governments to amnesty, pardon or simply release all those arbitrarily detained for exercising their fundamental human rights,” stressed Mr. Türk. 

He said he was given commitments that torture complaints would be addressed “decisively, fully investigated and those responsible brought to justice,” he said, encouraging the authorities to also take decisive steps to end torture once and for all, and to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which seeks both to prevent torture and improve conditions in detention. 

Socio-economic woes exacerbated by sanctions  

“The economic and social challenges Venezuela faces, including with respect to the minimum wage and pensions, and the impact this has on people’s daily lives by curtailing their rights to food, water, healthcare, education, and other economic and social rights, were powerfully conveyed to me in my meetings with civil society, trade unionists and pensioners, among others,” the UN human rights chief continued.   

He said he also heard from across the spectrum of people he spoke with, including humanitarian actors and UN agencies, about the impact of sectorial sanctions on the most vulnerable segments of the population and the hurdles sanctions create for the country’s recovery and development, not least in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“While the roots of Venezuela’s economic crisis predate the imposition of economic sanctions… it is clear that the sectorial sanctions imposed since August 2017 have exacerbated the economic crisis and hindered human rights,” said Mr. Türk, reiterating his recommendation that Member States suspend or lift measures that undermine human rights and that aggravate the humanitarian situation. 

Mexico Dialogue 

Noting that he had been able to hear from both the Government and the Unitary Platform delegations to the Mexico Dialogue political process, the High Commissioner said that he had reiterated support for the ongoing discussions and stressed the need to listen to victims in the political process.  

“While I in no way underestimate the challenges ahead, I urged them to listen to one another and embark on meaningful dialogue to find a common vision for the future … All sides need to think about the future they want for Venezuela and my Office is ready to be a bridge-builder between the State institutions and the people,” he stressed.   

As for Venezuelans outside the country, Mr. Türk said that he had encouraged the Venezuelan authorities to continue and strengthen their cooperation with UN agencies to ensure a voluntary, safe and dignified return for all those who seek it. 

UDHR75 

The High Commissioner also shared some of his overall impressions, including the fragmented, divided state of Venezuelan society; the overriding need and eagerness, expressed by many, to build bridges to try to heal these divides; and the human rights challenges that the country faces in the civil, political, economic, and social spheres. 

In all his interactions, Mr. Türk said that he highlighted the importance of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year. “This is not a mere date in the diary or a miraculous text, but a real chance to tackle and advance on many long-standing issues, promote dialogue, and foster healing after decades of rupture,” he stated. 

#Venezuela: UN Human Rights chief concludes visit after meeting w/ authorities & 125+ civil society reps.

High Commissioner @volker_turk welcomes extension of our Office’s presence & calls #UDHR75 “real chance” to tackle long-standing issues.

👉 https://t.co/7Lx3Ljdmus https://t.co/Ff7NbiEiSl

We must not simply remember, ‘but speak out and stand up’: UN chief Guterres

“The Holocaust did not happen as a ‘lesson’ for humanity, but it did happen. And because it happened, it may happen again,” Mr. Guterres told the annual ceremony held at the historic Park East Synagogue in New York to commemorate the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.  

“We must never let down our guard. We must be forever vigilant,” he warned, because The painful truth is that even today, antisemitism is everywhere. If anything, it is increasing in intensity.” 

Moreover, the same is true for other forms of racism and hate: Anti-Muslim bigotry; xenophobia; homophobia; and misogyny. Indeed, the UN chief explained that Neo-Nazi white supremacist movements today represent the number one internal insecurity threat in several countries – and the fastest growing.  

“Their venom is moving from the margins to the mainstream,” said Mr. Guterres, citing their demonization of the other, disdain for diversity, denigration of democratic values, and disregard for human right, as “evils are not new to our time. What is new is their reach and their speed.” 

Children wearing “United Against Hate” t-shirts appear at an interfaith gathering at the Park East Synagogue in New York City in memory of Jewish worshipers who were killed in Pittsburgh in the United States. (31 October 2018)
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Stop the hate 

The racist bigot who in the past might have spread his vitriol as far as his dinner table, today has a microphone with global reach, the Secretary-General said, adding that: “The paranoid conspiracy theorist who in the past might have found a single acquaintance to confide in, today finds a like-minded community of millions online.” 

“The consequences are as troubling as they are dangerous,” he stressed, and recalled that on Friday during the UN General Assembly’s annual Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, he had launched an appeal to stop the hate and set up guardrails. 

“I called out social media platforms, technology companies and advertisers for their complicity in amplifying vicious lies for profit. I called for regulation to clarify responsibilities. And I called on all of us to stand up and stand firm against hate. We must confront falsehoods with facts, ignorance with education, indifference with engagement,” he declared. 

Religious leaders and governments must step up 

Mr. Guterres went on to say that religious leaders everywhere had a duty to prevent the instrumentalization of hatred and defuse extremism amidst their followers. At the same time, governments everywhere have a responsibility to teach about the horrors of the Holocaust.  

“The United Nations – including through our Holocaust Outreach Programme – is at the forefront of this crucial work. And as fewer and fewer can bear direct witness, “we will have to find new ways to carry the torch of remembrance forward. Within families and across generations. Within classrooms and across geographies. We must tell the stories of the persecuted.” 

Those stories must include the mass murder of the Roma and Sinti; the torture and murder of other victims targeted by the Nazis: persons with disabilities; Germans of African descent; homosexuals; Soviet prisoners of war; and political dissenters and countless others. 

“And above all, we must tell the stories of all the children, women, and men who were systematically murdered and who together made up the rich and vibrant mosaic that was Jewish life in Europe. We must remember the Holocaust not as the history of 6 million deaths; but as 6 million different stories of death,” Mr. Guterres said. 

A view of the ceremony marking International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, held in Geneva.
UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Honour the memory of those who perished 

The Secretary-General said that our responsibility is to honour the memory of those who perished, “but also to learn the truth of what happened, and to ensure that neither we, nor future generations, ever forget. To refuse impunity for perpetrators anywhere. To stand against those who deny, distort, relativize, revise, or otherwise whitewash their own complicities or that of their fellow citizens.”  

Quoting renowned scholar and diarist Victor Klemperer, Mr. Guterres said: ‘Curious: At the very moment modern technology annuls all frontiers and distances…, the most extreme nationalism is raging.’  

While this passage was written in the 1930s, the UN chief noted that it has an eerie resonance today.  

“Our response must be clear. We must strengthen our defenses and reject those who seek to deny the past to reshape the future. We must pledge – not simply to remember – but to speak out and to stand up. To speak out wherever we witness hate and to stand up for human rights and the dignity of all – today and for all days to come,” concluded the Secretary-General. 

Hate speech: A growing, international threat

Hate speech is having a demonstrable effect on society: one of the many similarities between the January attacks on Brazil’s government buildings, and the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, is that each occurred after certain groups repeatedly directed dangerous rhetoric and false claims against others.

Concerns over the growing phenomenon have prompted independent human rights experts to call on major social media platforms to change their business models and become more accountable in the battle against rising hate speech online.

Recently, the case of divisive social media influencer Andrew Tate captured widespread media attention, following his detention in Romania, as part of an investigation into allegations of human trafficking and rape, which he denies.

Tate was previously banned from various prominent social media platforms, including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube for expressing misogynistic views and hate speech.

In the new UN Podcasts series UNiting Against Hate, producer Katy Dartford speaks to prominent activists whose work has made them the subjects of online attacks, disinformation, and threats.

 

Hate speech and deadly violence in South Sudan

Soundcloud

In South Sudan, internet access is limited to a small elite, but activists such as Edmund Yakani, one of the country’s most prominent human rights defenders, are nevertheless targeted by online hate speech.

In this episode of the UNiting Against Hate podcast, Mr. Yakani explains how hate speech, both in-country and from the diaspora, is contributing to further violence in the world’s newest internationally recognized country: 60 per cent of deadly violence in the country, he says, is triggered by hate speech.

Mr. Yakani says that has often been the victim of online attacks, in which his image, or statement has made, have been distorted. “Some describe me as a type of an animal, a cockroach, monkey or snake, or just call me a murderer.”

“This narrative has huge implications. It destroys my social fabric, my relationships with others, and it generates mistrust and a lack of confidence in people towards me.” 

Hate speech is having a destabilizing influence on his country, worries Mr. Yakani, making violence the primary tool for resolving disputes. The answer, in his opinion, is more investment in effective responses, which include targeted sanctions on those responsible, improved legislation, and education.

Despite the many risks to his own security, Mr Yakani continues to strive to ensure accountability, justice and respect for human rights. “Anybody who is standing and demanding accountability, transparency, and fighting against corruption, or demanding democratic transformation, is always a target of hate speech.”

Children wait outside a community toilet in a urban slum in Mumbai, India.
© UNICEF/Dhiraj Singh

Children in a Mumbai slum. Dalits are often the most disadvantaged members of Indian society

‘Coming out’ as Dalit

When in 2015  Yashica Dutt, publicly described herself as Dalit – a group of people who, according to those who subscribe to the Indian caste system, sit at the bottom of the pyramid – she became another victim of hate speech.

“I was very vocal. I was talking about what caste looks like and how we need to identify and acknowledge that it exists and no longer erase it. And obviously that narrative bothered a lot of people, so I have been a part of many troll attacks”. 

The journalist and award-winning author of the memoir “Coming out as Dalit” says that caste exists within Indian societies, whether in the country itself, or the Indian diaspora. The rise of social media has, she says, led to racism, hate, and verbal assaults making an unwelcome comeback.

Her Tumblr blog, “Documents of Dalit discrimination”, is an effort to create a safe space to talk about the trauma of what it comes to be a lower-caste person, but she says she now faces hate speech every day on Twitter and Facebook.

“If I give a talk or have a panel discussion, there are always a few trolls,” she says. “I’m told that I’m being paid by a mysterious agency, rather than because I’m truly sick of the discrimination that I face and that people around me face.” 

Hate speech “truly does have a heinous form online because you can mobilise armies of trolls to swarm on your account and make sure that you never use your voice again. And it’s quite scary,” she says.

According to Ms Dutt one prominent right-wing account incited its million or so followers to hurl abuses, slurs, and make threat of physical or sexual assault, and even death.

“I had to go offline for a long time. Even though I live in New York, a lot of the threats comes from India. And now we have the rise of fundamentalist Hindu communities in the US as well. It was scary, and over time I’ve learnt how to cope with it.” 

“Consciously or subconsciously, this affects how we use our voice. Ultimately, you think if I tweet this in this particular way, what is going to be the consequence?”

Soundcloud

‘I buried all my hopes’

Another female writer and journalist who has experienced the life-threatening effects of hate speech is writer and journalist Martina Mlinarević.

For years, Ms Mlinarević, who is also the ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Czech Republic, wrote about aspects of corruption in her country. For this she faced threats and insults online, but the level of abuse reached a new level, when a photo of her mastectomy scar was published in a magazine, a first for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“I had to move with a small child to another city due to threats and cyberbullying. The toughest and saddest part for me was fleeing my home town, where I lived for 37 years.” 

Ms Mlinarević explains how, in 2020, when she came to Prague, a doll created to resemble her was burned at a traditional carnival. “It was a kind of persecution campaign to punish me not only for the exposure of the scar on my breast, but also for daring to comment on politics and to promote gender issues and all other problems.”

All these attacks were unpunished at that time, and they escalated into misogynistic, intimidating threats to her safety and family. “For me that was the point when I buried all my hopes regarding the area where I came from”. 

Despite her experiences, Ms. Mlinarević remains optimistic for the future. “I’m trying to work with young people as much as I can, trying to empower their voice, girls’ and women’s voices, and trying to teach them to stand up for themselves, and for others. Let’s hope the future will bring something better for all of our children.” 

You can subscribe to our UN Podcasts series, UNiting Against Hate, here.

Holocaust remembrance: beware ‘siren songs of hate’ – UN chief

In his speech, delivered at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Guterres recalled that, within months, the Nazis had dismantled fundamental constitutional rights and paved the way for totalitarian rule: members of parliament were arrested, freedom of the press was abolished, and the first concentration camp was built, in Dachau.

The antisemitism of the Nazis became government policy, followed by organized violence and mass murder: “by the end of the war, six million children, women, and men – nearly two out of every three European Jews – had been murdered”.

Alarm bells ignored

Mr. Guterres went on to draw parallels between 1933 and today’s world: “the alarm bells were already ringing in 1933,” he declared, but “too few bothered to listen, and fewer still spoke out”.

The UN chief said that there are many “echoes of those same siren songs to hate,”

pointing out that we are living in a world in which an economic crisis is breeding discontent; populist demagogues are using the crisis to win votes, and “misinformation, paranoid conspiracy theories, and unchecked hate speech” are rampant.

In addition, continued Mr. Guterres, there is a growing disregard for human rights and disdain for the rule of law, “surging” white supremacist and Neo-Nazi ideologies; Holocaust denial and revisionism; and rising antisemitism – as well as other forms of religious bigotry and hatred.

Shoes confiscated from prisoners at a concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland.
Unsplash/William Warby

Shoes confiscated from prisoners at a concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland.

‘Antisemitism is everywhere’

The Secretary-General lamented the fact antisemitic hate can be found everywhere today and, he said, it is increasing in intensity.

Mr. Guterres cited several examples, such as assaults on Orthodox Jews in Manhattan, Jewish schoolchildren bulled in Melbourne, Australia, and swastikas spraypainted on the Holocaust memorial in the German capital Berlin.

Neo-Nazis now represent the number one internal security threat in several countries, declared Mr. Guterres, and white supremacist movements are becoming more dangerous by the day. 

Jews from Subcarpathian Rus are subjected to a selection process on a ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum/Yad Vashem

Jews from Subcarpathian Rus are subjected to a selection process on a ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland.

‘Set up guardrails’

The online world is one of the main reasons that hate speech, extreme ideologies and misinformation are disseminating so fast around the world, and the UN chief appealed to all those involved, from tech companies to policymakers and the media, to do more to stop the spread, and set up enforceable “guardrails”.

He went on to call out social media platforms and their advertisers who, he said, are complicit in moving extremism to the mainstream, turning many parts of the Internet into “toxic waste dumps for hate and vicious lies”.

The UN’s contribution to addressing the issue includes the Secretary-General’s Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech,  proposals for a Global Digital Compact for an open, free, inclusive, and secure digital future, and a code of conduct to promote integrity in public information.  

‘New waves of antisemitism’

In his address to the Ceremony, Csaba Kőrösi, President of General Assembly, reminded his audience that, although the Assembly was created to ensure that no one would have to see what the Holocaust survivors endured, 2023 is already seeing “new waves of antisemitism and Holocaust denial” across the world.

“Like poison, they seep into our everyday lives. We hear them from politicians, we read it in the media. The hate that made the Holocaust possible continues to fester”, declared Mr. Kőrösi.

The General Assembly President concluded by urging pushback against the “tsunamis of disinformation crashing about the Internet”.

Action through education and moderation

Tweet URL

In a statement released on the International Day, UNESCO, the UN education, science, and culture agency, referred to the partnerships it has established with leading social media company Meta – the owner of Facebook and TikTok – as a first step towards fighting online antisemitism and Holocaust denial, but acknowledged that significant work still needs to be done.

This programme involves the development, in collaboration with the World Jewish Congress, of online resources, which are now used by the platforms to counter the spread of content denying and distorting the Holocaust.

“As we enter a world with fewer and fewer survivors who can testify to what happened, it is imperative that social media companies take responsibility to fight misinformation and to better protect those targeted by antisemitism and hate,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

Widespread online Holocaust denial

UNESCO research has found that antisemitism and denial and distortion of the Holocaust, continue to proliferate on all social media platforms.

On average, 16 per cent of social media posts on the Holocaust falsified history in 2022. On Telegram, which has no content moderation, this rises to 49 per cent, whilst on Twitter the amount has risen considerably following the upheaval at the company at the end of last year.

Offline, UNESCO has programmes across the world to promote Holocaust and genocide education.

Next month, UNESCO and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum aim to train ministry of education officials in 10 countries to develop ambitious Holocaust and genocide education projects and, in the US, will train educators in the US on how to address antisemitism in schools.

The Holocaust began with words – and in the internet and social media era, the power of propaganda is more devastating than ever.

But education and knowledge can help prevent genocide.

27 January is International #HolocaustRemembranceDay.

https://t.co/41dxzOZfJT https://t.co/YKcP6OZo39

UN Holocaust Memorial Ceremony

  • This year’s ceremony included remarks by United Nations Secretary-General; the President of the 77th session of the General Assembly, the Permanent Representative of Israel and the Deputy Representative of the United States to the United Nations.

  • Professor Debórah Dwork delivered the keynote address. Jacques Grishaver of the Netherlands shared his testimony as a survivor of the Holocaust. Professor Ethel Brooks will speak to the persecution and mass murder of the Roma and Sinti. Two grandchildren of Holocaust survivors addressed the ceremony – Professor Karen Frostig and Michael Shaham.

  • Musicians performing, included Shoshana Shattenkirk, Michael Shaham (who will perform on a Violin of Hope). Professor Renée Jolles performed a piece for violin specially composed by Victoria Bond for the 2023 Holocaust memorial ceremony. Cantor Nissim Saal, recites the memorial prayer.

  • The ceremony, is available on demand, on the UN YouTube channel.

Get help now

Send a message with a description of your problem and possible ways of assistance and we will contact you as soon as we consider your problem.

    [recaptcha class:captcha]