[HILAC Lecture] Hate speech and incitement: International criminal and humanitarian law perspectives

18 January 2024
  • Starts at: 19:00h
  • Venue: Asser Institute
  • Organiser: HILAC and IHCL Platform
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In recent years, the United Nations has remarked on a worldwide surge in hate speech and incitement, and considered them ‘a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace.’ Last year, the OSCE stated that in its region - covering fifty-seventy states - violence against women in politics was prevalent, and included gendered hate speech, such as sexualised threats or blackmail, sexist insults, personal threats, intimidation, verbal abuse, rumour campaigns, character assassination, and online harassment. Most concerning is the fact that hate speech and incitement are recognised as early warning signs of mass violations of human rights, crimes against humanity, and even genocide (here, pp. 18-24).

In spite of the urgency to address hate speech and incitement, there is no one universal definition of hate speech or incitement in international law. For instance, the human rights community tends to use the term hate speech broadly to cover all forms, from permissible free speech that ‘just’ shocks or insults, to the more serious cases of incitement or advocacy to incitement. International criminal lawyers distinguish between ‘mere’ hate speech on the one hand, and incitement to violence or the commission of crimes on the other (e.g., Prosecutor v Nahimana, Barayagwiza, Ngeze, para. 692).

Meanwhile, the related field of international humanitarian law explicitly prohibits orders (including verbal) to commit war crimes (e.g., Geneva Convention I of 1949, art. 49), and threats of violence (Geneva Convention IV of 1949, art. 27). International criminal courts and tribunals, and human rights treaty bodies have tended to take a case-by-case approach to hate speech and incitement cases. This partly explains the definitional difficulties surrounding hate speech and incitement in international law.

This HILAC lecture, organised in collaboration with the University of Groningen, will critically discuss the opportunities and difficulties in identifying a holistic and integrated definition of hate speech and incitement in international law. For example, to what extent does the principle of legality, which is fundamental to international criminal law, limit reliance on human rights law and practice? How does one distinguish between propaganda, hate speech, and incitement in international humanitarian law? How do we surface gendered hate speech and gender-based incitement in international criminal judgments? The lecture by Audrey Fino will be followed by an expert panel discussion that will bring together several diverse perspectives. 

About the speakers

Dr. Uladzislau Belavusau is senior researcher in European law at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, under secondment from the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Previously, he was assistant professor in EU law and human rights at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (2011-2015). He is the head of the Dutch team in the international research consortium for a study of memory laws and policies (MEMOCRACY), sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation. His research and teaching cover various areas of EU (especially constitutional and anti-discrimination) law, human rights and memory politics. Amongst numerous publications in these areas, he authored a monograph and co-edited three volumes. 

Predrag Dojčinović is adjunct professor and research affiliate at the Gladstein Family Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut. From 1998 to 2017, Dojčinović worked for the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Dojčinović is author and editor of Propaganda, War Crimes Trials and International Law: From Speakers’ Corner to War Crimes (Routledge 2012) and Propaganda and International Criminal Law: From Cognition to Criminality (Routledge 2020).

Audrey Fino LL.D., MSc, is lecturer international humanitarian and human rights law and a PhD researcher at the University of Groningen. She formerly worked at the Extraordinary Chambers for the Courts of Cambodia, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Fino's publications include Defining Hate Speech: A Seemingly Elusive Task (18 Journal of International Criminal Justice 1, June 2020) and A Critique of the UN Strategy and Guidance on 'Hate Speech,' Some Legal Considerations (Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, December 2023).

Judge Alphons M. M. Orie was from 1971 until 1980 Lecturer at Leiden University, department of criminal law. In 1980 he was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. He was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in 1997. Judge Orie was elected as Judge of the ICTY in 2001, where he served until 2017. Since 2011 he is a Judge on the roster of the United Nations International Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.



About the HILAC lecture series
The Hague Initiative for Law and Armed Conflict (HILAC) Lecture Series is an occasional lecture series on the subject of law and armed conflict organised by the T.M.C. AsserInstituut since2005, in cooperation with the Netherlands Red Cross and the Amsterdam Center for International Law, and held at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut.


About the IHCL Platform
The International Humanitarian and Criminal Law (IHCL) Platform, coordinated by the Asser Institute, is an academic network in the field of international humanitarian lawand international criminal law, established in 2010. It currently consists of representatives from the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, the University of Amsterdam (in particular the Amsterdam Center for International Law), VU University Amsterdam, Leiden University (in particular the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies), the University of Groningen, the Netherlands Defence Academy, Tilburg University, Maastricht University, the Institute for International Law of the KU Leuven, Utrecht University, the Ghent Rolin-Jaequemyns International Law Institute of Ghent University, the University of Antwerp, the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Royal Military Academy of Belgium.