The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO director), Abdoul Aziz Thioye, called for strengthening mechanisms to prevent, combat and punish hate speech in the DRC. Photo MONUSCO / Blaise Ndongala
In recent months, there has been a proliferation of what can be described as hate speech, not only against foreigners but also between Congolese citizens of different ethnic backgrounds. This hate speech has increased since the resumption of fighting between the Congolese army and the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels in North Kivu province.
The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO director), Abdoul Aziz Thioye, called for strengthening mechanisms to prevent, combat and punish hate speech in the DRC.
Mr. Thioye made the call while participating last Thursday, June 10, in the radio program "Dialogue between Congolese" broadcast on Radio Okapi, MONSCO’s radio station, focusing on “What to do to prevent hate speech in the DRC?”
The UN officer was a co-debater in this radio program on the fight against hate speech in the DRC, along with the Minister of Communication and Media and government spokesman, Patrick Muyaya, and Professor Naupess Kibiswa, doctor in conflict analysis and resolution, and master in peace and justice studies.
While recognizing that there are now efforts by the national authorities to have provisions that prevent, fight and prohibit hate speech, xenophobia and tribalism, the director of the UNJHRO regrets however that it remains difficult for authors of this kind of speech to face prosecution.
It is necessary there be "more accountability for public opinion makers and broadcasters so that they abide by their terms of reference and identify the red lines not to be exceeded to avoid finding themselves in situations where they would be broadcasting or giving free rein to the dissemination of hate messages," he said.
According to Aziz Thioye, his office works in collaboration with national regulation and self-regulation mechanisms, such as the ARPTC, Cesac or UNPC with which MONUSCO has organized a host of training sessions, in collaboration with the Ministry of Communication, to raise awareness of hate speech.
Resurgence of hate speech
During the clashes between the Congolese army and the M23 rebel group, "we have seen the emergence and proliferation of discourse that can be described as inciting hatred, violence and discrimination," explained Aziz Thioye.
He said that the arears of expression of these hate speeches are as much physical spaces, such as newspapers or audiovisual media, as virtual spaces, including social networks that serve today as a place of expression and dissemination of these hateful messages.
"If it is easier, in a physical space which has as its setting a territory, and where there are authorities who can put into action procedural rules, to sanction this kind of speech, it is even more difficult to do so in the virtual space," he explained.
Aziz Thioye says he notes that most hate speeches in the Congolese media space are disseminated by members of the diaspora, most of whom live in countries where these messages are criminalized.
"Largely, it is the Congolese of the diaspora who are identified as the most active authors of these messages. They broadcast these messages from countries where these messages are criminalized. So, they can really face criminal proceedings," he said.
Preserving freedom of expression
While fighting hate speech, the UN Joint Human Rights Office wants to ensure that freedom of expression is preserved.
"At the United Nations, what interests us is to ensure that, under the pretext of combatting extremist, xenophobic and hate speech, freedom of expression does not end up being limited," he explained.
Therefore, the United Nations’ action today is to advocate for States to legislate so as to prevent, combat and punish this type of message.
Although the UNJHRO does not have the power to compel a State in this matter, its director recalls that it is possible for an individual or a group, who feels targeted by this type of messages, to seize the international mechanisms that monitor the conventions to which most States have subscribed, including the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights.
United Nations strategy against hate speech
During the same radio program, Aziz Thioye also recalled that the DRC was the first country to host the international symposium against hate speech, initiated by the United Nations from 22 to 24 September 2021 in Kinshasa. This symposium allowed to obtain a commitment paper, which formed the basis on which workshops on the same subject were also organized in other African countries, such as Cameroon, Central African Republic and soon Chad.
The final stage will take place in Kinshasa, where the regional forum against hate speech will be organized from June 21 to 24.
Find out more about this strategy here: https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/advising-and-mobilizi...
The Congolese government is committed to the fight against hate speech.
For his part, Minister Patrick Muyaya notes that, unfortunately, in its history, the DRC has already experienced violence generated by hate speech. He mentioned the ethnic cleansing that took place in the former Katanga in the 1990s.
As new migrations from the former large Kasai province to the former Katanga are increasingly taking place, causing concern among locals, the government is working to prevent potential violence.
"It is the government’s role to bring together the governors of the five provinces of Kasai and the four provinces of ex-Katanga so that together they can address the problem. Identify the causes of the anger, that is, why the people are moving and see how we can begin to respond to them in order to provide lasting solutions," he explained.
Patrick Muyaya stresses that "extremism or the use of hate speech does not solve any problem”.
"On the contrary, [hate speech] sets us back because the Congo, for its development, needs unity, cohesion. That is why the government of the Republic, starting with the President of the Republic, promotes the message of peace on every occasion and invites everyone to always transcend the differences and the cleavage and move towards the center, which will allow us to find solutions and see how, together, we solve the problems of our people," he concluded.