Legal definitions

Currently, there is no single, universally accepted legal definition of hate speech, although it is worth mentioning a number of attempts that have been made to define it. In Recommendation No. R (97) 20 of the Committee of Ministers to Council of Europe member states, hate speech was defined as “all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia or anti-Semitism, or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including intolerance expressed in the form of aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants, or people from the immigrant community”.

The Bureau of Research at the Chancellery of the Polish Sejm has a similar definition of hate speech. However, a report prepared by the Bureau extended the range of groups encompassed by the term: “‘Hate Speech’ means spoken, written or visual statements which are abusive, accusatory, derisive and humiliating to groups and individuals for reasons partly beyond their control, such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, disability (…). It implies a well-publicised, violent verbal expression of collective hatred (…)” (Problems of Discrimination against Persons belonging to National and Ethnic Minorities in Poland, the Bureau of Research at the Chancellery of the Polish Sejm, 2003).

When such content is recognised as hate speech, the most important consequence is that persons using hate speech publicly are no longer entitled to invoke their right to freedom of expression. In the case of Gündüz v. Turkey, concerning the limitations on freedom of expression (guaranteed by Art. 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), the European Court of Human Rights ruled that “there is no doubt that certain content which constitutes ‘hate speech’, which may be offensive to various individuals or groups, is not protected by Art. 10 of the Convention”. Therefore, identifying a specific statement as being “hate speech” is crucial, as it means that the right to freedom of expression (which is a fundamental right of the individual, after all) may then be limited. It is also extremely important to define precisely what kind of words, spoken in what circumstances, actually constitute hate speech.