Countering hate speech need of the hour – Sudarshini

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Measures against hate speech should be welcomed as initiatives to foster the freedom of speech, as it is by no means an absolute right that could be carelessly used for the detriment of others in society, Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said.

In a statement to mark the inaugural International Day for Countering Hate Speech which falls tomorrow (18), Dr. Fernandopulle said, “Today marks a milestone in the global initiative to counter discrimination, xenophobia, and hate speech, as for the first time, on celebrating this day, we are reminded of the need to increase our efforts to address the unprecedented proliferation of hate speech which undermines the respect for human dignity, equality, and peace.”

Recognising the global rise and concern over hate speech, in July 2021, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on ‘promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech.’ The resolution proclaimed 18 June as the International Day for Countering Hate Speech.

This day is of particular importance to women and other vulnerable communities, as they are often the target of hate speech, Dr. Fernandopulle said.

“Being female politicians who are engaged in a vastly male-dominated sector, this day is of special importance to the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus and we feel a sense of urgency and responsibility in our role in the global initiative to counter hate speech.”

It is important to acknowledge that there is a discourse surrounding the impact that measures countering hate speech would have on the “freedom of opinion and expression,” she said.

“Coming from a workplace, where privileges are awarded to say what you want, the way you want, without having to face any consequence whatsoever, I along with the other Members of the Caucus have first-hand experience to confidently say freedom of speech must never be exploited and weaponised. But in reality, it is often done so with the view to censor another party through intimidation,” Dr. Fernandopulle said.

“In November 2021, I took the initiative to write on behalf of the Women’s Caucus to the Speaker, urging him to take steps to prevent verbal harassment of female Members of Parliament by our male colleagues, who constitute the vast majority in Parliament,” Dr. Fernandopulle added.

There are ample examples attesting to the fact that lewd, suggestive, and violating comments are often directed at Caucus members at the very place where laws are being formulated to govern the country.

“We are determined to initiate a policy dialogue in Sri Lanka to formulate strategies to identify, address, and counter hate speech. A starting point in fulfilling our role in countering hate speech would be to first understand hate speech and its impact, and thereafter, devise mechanisms to identify, combat, and counter hate speech,” she said.