Hate Speech – When words can kill

Genocides do not start with bullets or machetes; they begin with hate speech.

The Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers, but with hate speech. The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda began with decades of hate speech exacerbated by ethnic tensions. The Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina began with constant nationalist propaganda throughout party-controlled media channels demonizing the Bosnian Muslim population.

In recent years, the world has witnessed several mass atrocities. In many of these cases, hate speech was identified as a “precursor to atrocity crimes, including genocide”. While the use of social media and digital platforms to spread hatred is relatively recent, the weaponization of public discourse for political gain is unfortunately not new. As history continues to show, hate speech coupled with disinformation can lead to stigmatization, discrimination and large-scale violence.

Alice Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, tells us about the real world consequences of hate speech, and what we can all do to prevent future outbreaks.

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