South Sudan holds first roundtable conference to counter hate speech
Under the theme “countering hate speech whilst defending freedom of expression and press freedom” and ahead of the World Press Freedom Day which is commemorated every 3rd of May, UNESCO office in Juba hosted the first roundtable conference on Countering Hate Speech for Peace in South Sudan. The conference took place at Juba Grand Hotel in South Sudan capital Juba on 2 May 2017.
More than 200 delegates who attended the conference were drawn from academia, CSOs, online activists, youth organisations, representatives of traditional media, media development organisations representatives, government representatives, UN agencies, diplomatic missions and various actors and stakeholders who have in different ways looked into various aspects of hate speech which is increasingly of concern and is associated with incitement of violence in South Sudan.
The Undersecretary Ministry of Information, Communication, Technology and Postal Services Mr. Justine Alier De Mayen who officiated the event reminded the delegates that freedom of expression is a human right that everyone must enjoy but there is need to ensure that freedom of one must not infringe the right of others too.
He advised that South Sudanese should learn from the quote of Mahatma Gandhi that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” De Mayen made a reference that hate speech has destroyed many countries – citing examples such as Rwanda genocide. De Mayen noted that not only illiterate people spreading hate speech but also elite group and politicians are equally involved in spreading hate speech. He urges for the print media and broadcast to guard against all forms of hate speech.
The Undersecretary urged journalists to educate themselves and the masses on the dangers of hate speech. “We are in a society with a big number of illiteracy rate, understanding the meaning of hate speech correctly would answer some of our questions and would enhance our national dialogue at this particular period the country is heading for it, “said De Mayen.
UNESCO representative to South Sudan, Mr. Sardar Umar Alam told the delegates that digital technologies have opened new avenues for freedom of expression, offering new opportunities to produce, consume and share content but also cautioned if not properly they can be used to facilitate the spread of online hate speech, extremist propaganda leading some to argue for tough and regulatory responses but combating these ills should not be at the expense of freedom of expression. “There is a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Free speech encourages debate whereas hate speech incites violence” said Mr Alam.
Mr. Alam told the participants that UNESCO will facilitate a series of dialogues, capacity building workshops as well as conferences to assess the challenges of hate speech from different dimensions and see how best it can be countered.
Speaking at the same occasion was Mr. Christian Stephane Mikala, a Senior Human Rights Officer at UNMISS Human Rights Division who applauded UNESCO for organising platforms which in the medium and long term will help contextualize the language, the expressions and help review their use and misuse based on facts, actions, impact and perceptions. Mikala said there is casual relationships s between online and offline hate speech and actual violence and human rights violations and urged actors to come up with home grown solutions applicable for South Sudan context.
Conference participants agreed that media can play a central role in conflict and crisis situations and that independent, objective, neutral media can help defuse tension, promote dialogue and counter hate speech in order to contain conflicts. Speakers tasked to interrogate the theme “Promoting the media potential as a catalyser of peace and mutual understanding” urged all media stakeholders in South Sudan and in diaspora to offer counter narratives to challenge violence incitement and urge the government of South Sudan to ensure proportionately responses to counter hate speech in a way that will not curtail freedom of expression and press freedom.
The conference also examined existing proactive and reactive responses to the proliferation of hate speech and offered insights on attempts to provide structural answers to hate speech through education Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), Peace Tech Lab Africa and analysed series of countering hate speech initiatives targeting the youth by #defyhatenow and #Anataban campaigns.
Panellists and delegates concluded the conference by underscoring the importance of coming up with a comprehensive and systematic approach for all stakeholders to sensitise South Sudan communities about the danger of hate speech.
UNESCO organised the conference in partnership with the Association of Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), Association of Women Media in South Sudan (AMWISS) South Sudan National Editors Forum (NEF), Union of Journalists in South Sudan (UOJSS), Catholic Radio Network (CRN) Ministry of Information, Communication Technology and Postal Services, Peace Tech Lab Africa, #defyhatenow, CEPO, #Anataban, US Embassy, USAID, German Embassy, Office of the President, Eye Radio, EBC TV/Radio, Radio Miraya, Juba Monitor, UN Human Rights UNMISS, South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation, Journalists for Human Rights, JMEC, Center for Human Rights Lawyers, Ajo & Co Advocate, CEPO, South Sudan Law Society, Sudd Institute and UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa with the generous financial support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency(SIDA) , Internews in South Sudan and Norwegian People’s Aid(NPA).
For information on how to join the working group on “Prevention and Countering Hate Speech whilst defending freedom of expression and press freedom in South Sudan, please contact:
Ms. Mwatile Ndinoshiho
Communication and Information Specialist
UNESCO Office in Juba
Tel: +211 922 000 563