Global Freedom of Expression

Comments and Recommendations on ECRI General Policy Recommendation No. 15 on Combating Hate Speech

Key Details

  • Region
  • Themes
    Hate Speech


We are living in troubled and restive time. This is true for Europe as it is for the rest of the world. The deliberate attack on and executions of Charlie Hebdo journalists and on the customers of a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January 2015 further demonstrated not only the global outreach of the “terrorism” threat but also its intersection with freedom of expression and information, and religion. Three thunderous streams may be defining our era: expression and information (including on-line and media), religion and other forms of identity, and “terrorism” or national security. In 2015, these flows grew in force and volume against a backdrop of economic crisis, social and political unrest and rising inequality.

What constituted localized, small or larger, armed violence and escalating political violence in 2014 have now morphed into full-blown warfare, most often regional or international in nature and involving many parties in 2015. The latest Global Peace and Terrorism Indexes should show a notable deterioration in levels of peace, and a 61% increase in the number of people killed in terrorist attacks over the last year. Global analyses of freedom of expression in 2014, also highlight the worldwide deterioration in indicators and indexes. According to Reporters Without Border 2014 world press freedom index, “Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents. The indicators compiled by Reporters Without Borders are incontestable. There was a drastic decline in freedom of information in 2014. Two-thirds of the 180 countries surveyed for the 2015 World Press Freedom Index performed less well than in the previous year.”

In Europe, according to the most recent report from Minority Rights Group, migrants, ethnic and religious minorities are blamed for the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis, government austerity measures and rising unemployment rate. This has translated into rising levels of violence and hate, anti-immigrant, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic rhetoric . ENAR recently published report on racist crimes in Europe also document an increase in anti-Semitic crimes (particularly in Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden) and Islamophobic crimes (particularly in France, England and Wales). The report also documents increasing forms of online incitement to hatred and/or violence. There were cases of violence, abuse or incitement to violence against Roma in almost all EU Member States, and in particular those with a large Roma population. Crimes perpetrated by members of far-right groups are over-represented (49%) in racist crimes and complaints linked to political groups.

The Fundamental Rights Agency 2013 report on the implementation of the European Union anti discrimination directive concludes: “The data collected for different projects and areas show that despite significant legislative developments, there is still a considerable way to go in order to sufficiently improve daily reality. The available evidence shows that too many individuals’ social and economic achievement is significantly hindered and undercut by diverse forms of discrimination, including multiple and intersectional discrimination. This is the case, for instance, for ethnic minorities, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants, in the areas of healthcare, education, employment and housing, as FRA’s research has shown. In addition, discrimination based on grounds other than ethnic origin, for instance, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation remains a reality within the EU.”
These are restive, dangerous, times, including for European values and fundamental freedom. They call for renewed energy, creativity and commitment.

Please see the downloadable PDF for the full report. 


Agnès Callamard

Secretary General, Amnesty International
Former Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression; Special Adviser to the President, Columbia University; United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions