The workshop was hosted by a GAAMAC Steering Group member, the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka. Introducing the event, the Museum’s Trustee Mofidul Hoque recalled the history of atrocity crimes in Bangladesh, in particular the 1971 genocide.
Acknowledging that hate speech and incitement was an issue relevant for the whole region, he saluted the presence of scholars/researchers from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, and Cambodia and of course Bangladesh, in addition to the six countries presented in the report (see below).
Mofidul Hoque concluded his speech by hoping that the workshop would “open new opportunities, new doors, and provide (participants) with new insights (and) inspiration.”
Presentation of the report and key recommendations
Cecilia Jacob kickstarted the session, introducing the Asia Pacific Working Group (APWG) and the report it published in 2021. The report studied hate speech through “a series of case studies to understand the dynamics of hate speech across the region, what its relationship was to atrocities and also to highlight cases of successful mitigation and response.” She hoped the report could be a “knowledge base” not just in the Asia Pacific, but more globally too.
Hate speech being a vast subject, the report focused on the kind that incited violence, and potentially mass atrocities. She insisted that not all hate speech resulted in violent crimes, and that it was only one of many risk factors that may constitute early signals. Conversely, although a common signal, hate speech does not systematically precede mass atrocities.
Six speakers were then introduced to each present one country analyzed in the report (key takeaways are developed in the hyperlinks):
- Gani Abunda for the Philippines and Mindanao
- Alif Satria for Indonesia
- Ruji Auethavornpipat for Malaysia
- Cecilia Jacob for India
- Noel Morada for Myanmar
- Hatizah Rashid for Pakistan
Questions and comments from the audience
The floor was then opened to questions from participants, both in-person in Dhaka and online. Questions allowed the panelists and attendees to add the following points:
- The legal prohibition of hate speech must be balanced with the protection of freedom of expression. This can only be done on a country-by-country basis, after careful examination of their legal and constitutional framework. Such specific recommendations are included in each chapter of the report.
- To be fully understood and prevented, hate speech has to be examined in a historical perspective. In others, policy-makers must appreciate the fact that hate speech and incitement that results in atrocity crimes has a deep connection with the complex political history of each country. In absence of this acknowledgment, the prevention of hate speech seems to be herculean task.
- School, family and other educational circles have a key role to play to prevent hate speech and incitement. The legal framework alone cannot solve the problem.
- Increased dialogue among policy-makers is necessary, at national, regional and grassroots levels.
- Social media play a huge role in the spread and amplification of hate speech and incitement. Their reach knows no border and attempts to regulate content from tech companies themselves have been largely unsuccessful so far. A panelist described this online space as “the wild wild west”.
- A lot more should be done by the international community to document and prevent atrocities, and more generally the targeting of religious and ethnical minorities, especially in India.
Concluding the event, Executing Director of Human Rights Alert Babloo Loitongbam thanked all speakers, the Liberation War Museum and GAAMAC for organizing such an important event.. He saluted the presence of Bangladeshi government officials as a sign that the matter of hate speech is taken seriously by local authorities. He encouraged everybody, at their level, to resist the rise of hate speech “from the Supreme Court to the mother taking care of the child, or the civil society, or the governments”, comparing them to drop of waters that together, create the ocean.