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Council of Europe: new guidelines to combat hate speech

The Council of Europe has issued a set of guidelines to its 46 member states aimed at preventing and combating online and offline hate speech.

In a Recommendation adopted during its annual session held in Turin, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe addressed the governments and called them to develop comprehensive strategies to prevent and fight hate speech, including the adoption of an effective legal framework and implementing adequately calibrated and proportionate measures. It has been underlined that such actions should be carried out carefully with a respect for the right to private life, the right to freedom of expression and the prohibition of discrimination. Although the Recommendation is mainly addressed to the member states and their authorities, it also contains guidance for other actors such as public officials, political parties, internet intermediaries, media and civil society organisations.

The guidelines recommend that member states differentiate between, firstly, the most serious cases of hate speech, which are to be prohibited by criminal law, secondly, hate speech subject to civil and administrative law and, finally, offensive or harmful types of expressions which are not sufficiently severe to be legitimately restricted under the European Convention on Human Rights but nevertheless call for alternative responses. Further recommendations include: awareness-raising and education; the use of counter and alternative speech; development of support mechanisms to help the victims of hate speech; and training for all professionals who may be engaged in dealing with hate speech, especially members of the police and the judiciary.