Remarks at a UN Third Committee Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression

Jason Mack
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 22, 2019


Special Rapporteur Kaye, the United States thanks you for this timely report. Hate speech, while deserving of the strongest condemnation, should not be justification for undue restrictions on freedom of expression.

In the United States, our experience has taught us that broad speech restrictions are not effective. Instead, they all too often constrain democratic engagement, diminish respect for human dignity, and stifle change and social advancement. Banning offensive speech has often served to protect those interested solely in maintaining the status quo or their own political preferences.

We are gravely concerned that decisions by governments to ban offensive speech might serve – intentionally or unintentionally – to undermine human rights and democracy.
Unfortunately, we see examples of intentional abuse of such restrictions all over the world.

In China, we condemn the government’s methods to limit and dismantle freedom of expression and create a pervasive surveillance state – particularly in Xinjiang.

We are troubled by systematic actions the Turkish government has taken to restrict Turkey’s media environment, including closing media outlets, jailing media professionals, and blocking critical online content.

We are concerned that Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act is used to suppress and criminalize free speech, to the detriment of Bangladesh’s democracy.

Democracy and prosperity depend on the free exchange of ideas and the ability to dissent. The United States robustly protects freedom of expression because the cost of stripping away individual rights is far greater than the cost of tolerating hateful words. We believe the best way to combat intolerant ideas is to have them fall of their own weight when challenged by well-reasoned counter arguments.

We welcome the Secretary-General’s Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech. As noted in the guiding principles for the Strategy, governments, the private sector, and civil society all have a role in combatting hate speech.

The United States stands ready to support implementation of the Plan of Action and looks forward to continuing dialogue on this important issue.

Special Rapporteur Kaye, do you recommend governments engage with social media companies on this issue? As you have noted, social media companies have global standards against online hate speech that they often fail to apply, or apply inconsistently.