The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Journal of Free Speech Law: "Hate Speech, Holy Prophets, and Human Rights: The Struggle for Free Speech from 1945–2021,"

by Jacob Mchangama (Justitia), Heini Skorini (Univ. of Faroe Islands) & Mathias Meier (Justitia).


Just published, at 1 Journal of Free Speech Law 675 (2022); here's the Abstract:

This article examines how the right to freedom of expression in inter­na­tional human rights law has been a constant source of conflict and poli­tic­al power struggles since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Hu­man Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Applying both the UN arena as well as the Hel­sinki Process as institutional frameworks, the article examines how prohibitions against hate speech, incitement to hatred, blasphemy, and related legal restrictions have served as a recurrent source of conflict in international diplomacy and in the making of international free speech norms in the postwar period. From the drafting history of the UDHR and the subsequent International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to the Helsinki Final Act and contemporary UN resolutions, the article provides an overview and outlines some of the main conflicts and issues regarding the right to communicate freely about cultural, religious, and political issues in the postwar period.

Censorship and repression predate debates surrounding the prohibi­tion of hate speech in international human rights law. And while authori­ta­rian states are likely to use such methods to punish dissent regardless of inter­national standards, this article nonetheless argues that obligations to ban specific categories of speech under human rights law provide formal legitimacy, or at least a façade of legitimacy, to authoritarian restrictions of free expression.