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UN Cautions Nigeria Against Hate Speech, Says It Can Trigger Atrocities

By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja                           

The United Nations, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, has warned that hate speech, can be both a precursor and a trigger of atrocity crimes

She added that this could be the case especially if accompanied by policies and practices that discriminate against populations based on their identity often results in hate crimes, discrimination, and violence and can be both a precursor and a trigger of atrocity crimes, in particular genocide.

Speaking while addressing the Media at the UN House in Abuja, today, she noted that during the 2023 elections in Nigeria, the country had witnessed a surge in the use of inflammatory language and hateful and divisive rhetoric, and such hate speech was amplified at an unprecedented rate by digital technology.

Nderitu said “We know that the impact of hate speech makes those targeted more vulnerable to violence, exposes them to exclusion and discrimination, exacerbates underlying social and economic inequalities, and undermines social cohesion. We know too that hate speech particularly impacts women differently as is often evidenced by their absence from political spaces. It also polarizes communities along identity lines, hampering dialogue and reconciliation.”

The United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser of Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu who is on an official visit to Nigeria this week ahead of the 25 February general elections, stated that “Countering and addressing hate speech is crucial, recalling that in the Holocaust, and the genocides in Rwanda against the Tutsi and in Srebrenica, Bosnia Herzegovina, hate speech and the dehumanization of ‘the other’ was present during, after and long before violence broke out and such crimes were committed.”

UN Under-Secretary-General/ Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Ms. Alice Wairimu Nderitu (Left), and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Matthias Schmale (Right) at the press briefing.

Nderitu emphasised that action aimed at countering and addressing hate speech must be at the heart of all prevention efforts. “Indeed, it all begins with words.” She added that “By addressing divisive and harmful language, we can avoid escalation of tensions that could result in violence. Measures to that effect can also help build resilient and inclusive societies.”

She explained that her role as Under Secretary General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide was not to decide whether Genocide, had taken or is taking place. “This is the responsibility of independent courts of justice that have the jurisdiction to make those judgments,” she informed, “Our focus is on prevention of genocide and related crimes, detecting risk factors with the objective of mitigating and de-escalating them.” She informed.

She called on the media to play their invaluable role during electoral processes in educating, informing, raising awareness, and alerting on situations at risk, and countering narratives of

hatred and segregation with verified facts.

The Envoy informed that she had met with government authorities, political leaders, representatives of civil society, traditional and religious leaders, and members of the international community for a better understanding of developments and views in the country.

The Under-Secretary-General acknowledged the work done by “my UN colleagues in the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) led by Deputy SRSG Giovanni Biha and the UN Country Team in Nigeria led by Resident Coordinator Matthias Schmale in supporting Nigeria towards a peaceful election.”

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