UNITED NATIONS   -   Pakistan threw its full weight behind the new United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action to combat hate speech, stating that language was being used to secure narrow political and electoral gains in many parts of the world, including the South Asian region.

“An inevitable consequence is to fan the flames of bigotry, intolerance, anti-Muslim hatred and xenophobia,” Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres unveiled the strategy at a special meeting held in the packed ECOSOC chamber on Tuesday.

“My Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has recently again called for urgent action to counter Islamophobia, which is today the most prevalent expression of racism and hatred against ‘the other’,” the Pakistani envoy told Ambassadors, senior diplomats and high-ranking UN officials.

The UN Strategy and Plan of Action provides a system-wide programme with the overriding objective of identifying, preventing and confronting hate speech.

The Secretary-General said that it targeted, “the root causes of hate speech”, pointing out that these included tackling violence, marginalisation, discrimination, and poverty, as well as bolstering weak State institutions.

While many of these are being addressed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the new strategy goes further by recommending a coordinated response, such as identifying users of hate speech, he said.

Secondly, the strategy aimed to enable the UN to respond to “the impact of hate speech on societies”, Guterres explained, including by bringing individuals and groups together who have opposing views; working with traditional and social media platforms; and developing communications guidance.

In her comments, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said that “We are fully committed to support the UN’s strategy on hate speech. This is a moment for all of us to come together to reverse the tide of hate and bigotry that threatens to undermine social solidarity and peaceful co-existence.”

The Pakistani envoy expressed the hope that the strategy and action plan would address the complex question of how to respond to intolerant, inflammatory and prejudiced narratives that were stoking racial and religious fears and consequent hostility, stating that follow up would be critical.

In this regard, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi called for government interventions to fight hate speech, including national legislation, emphasised that social media platforms should not become conduits for incitement to violence and evolving ways to ensure that information technology companies were held accountable for the content that incited violence and weaponised individuals.

In addition, she called for framing a more focused strategy to deal with the various expressions of Islamophobia.

A ‘whole of government’ and a ‘whole of society’ approach was needed, she added.

In this regard, the Pakistani envoy urged the Secretary-General to engage with a wide range of actors, including governments, civil society and social media companies to take action and stop social media users being funneled into online sources of radicalisation.

Adama Dieng, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said “hate speech was a challenge from which no country was immune”.

He elaborated that in line with the UN’s longstanding commitment to the protection, promotion and implementation of all international human rights standards, “the strategy and the plan of action never calls for restrictions of freedom of expression and opinion while addressing hate speech”.

By contrast, “it adopts a holistic approach that aims at tackling the whole life cycle of hate speech, from its roots causes to its impact on societies”, he stated.

Furthermore, Dieng said that the strategy considered “alternative, positive and counter-narratives” to be the “answer to hate speech”.

“We have no doubt” he emphasised that by implementing the strategy, “we will enhance the system-wide capacity to address