A time to celebrate, but scourge of hate speech rising: International Roma Day 8 April 2021 50 years on


The Roma minority this year celebrate 50 years since the first World Romani Congress in 1971. The UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, issues the following statement to mark International Roma Day on 8 April:

“While the anniversary may be a cause for celebration, the rise of hate speech disproportionally targeting Sinti and Roma in social media demonstrates the urgent need for greater focus and measures to control those forms of online hate speech which violate international human rights obligations and can lead to violence against Sinti, Roma and other minorities.

“Not much seems to have changed since last year when we reflected on the prevalence of hate speech against minorities, in particular Roma, both online and in mainstream media which included scapegoating of Roma for the spread of the Covid virus. Public authorities who not only condoned but actively took part in such vitriol could contribute to threats to public health and incite unnecessary and future harm.

Online hate begets offline violence, and unfortunately Roma have experienced physical attacks linked to the vitriol and scapegoating increasingly aimed at them because of hate, bigotry and intolerance towards minorities which has become almost normalised, and even politicised in some countries. As my 2020 report on hate speech, social media and minorities warned, inflammatory speech online can lead to violent acts against minorities, as has been seen in incidents in Europe where far-right groups hatred against Roma expressed on social media led to violence and killings.

“Given the situation, I would urge States prioritise the strengthening of measures to combat prejudice, hate speech and discrimination of Roma together with ways to effectively implement and monitor such measures. I would also invite States, civil society organisations and Roma minorities from all regions of the world to participate in this year’s regional fora which focus on minorities and the prevention of conflict and which can be triggered as a result of hate speech.”

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