MP lacks credibility in urging hate speech law
It is an irony of some magnitude that the leading proponent of new hate speech laws in
the Ghahraman, New Zealand worked Parliament, as an intern Golriz at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), defending Simon Bikindi who was convicted for inciting genocide.
It is doubly so when you take into account that the defence arguments almost entirely rested on his right to freedom of speech.
While I accept even the most heinous criminals are entitled to a robust defence – and that includes interns, I guess – at the very least I’d be curious to know if Ghahraman accepts the ICTR’s ultimate judgment, or harbours any regrets about the role she chose to play defending Bikindi, a folk singer who used his celebrity to encourage the extermination of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority, one million of whom were killed over 100 days of slaughter.
Her silence to date on this,
as well as on the infamous
grinning selfie she took with Bikindi, speaks volumes. After the revelation of her involvement, and publication of the alarming photo, a young genocide survivors’ group in Rwanda sought clarification over her role and offered to host the MP on a fact-finding tour of the country. She declined their invitation and denied them a reply to any of their questions – beyond a single, dismissive tweet.
This attitude is not new to Rwandans. In fact, free-speech arguments emanating from the West have a long and inglorious history there. Amnesty International, for example, was up in arms over the arrest of hate radio propagandists some years before the 1994 genocide but remained silent on the central role they played in instigating the killings. The US government resisted a proposal to jam the signal of these same radio stations on First Amendment grounds, as if the US Constitution applies to East Africa.
To this day, human rights lobbyists based in Western capitals continue to badger the government of Rwanda over laws restricting the
propagation formation staggering to insert themselves of to of political me ethnic that in Western parties division this debate along actors and at prohibiting ethnic all feel in entitled lines. light the of It’s our One collective wonders failure how in these 1994. pale-faced know-it-alls would justify their sanctimony to Jeanette Mukabyagaju, the survivor whom I met in the village of Rwimikoni last week. Jeanette’s parents were shot dead on the second day of the killings – April 8, 1994 – and four of her six siblings were cut down in even more brutal fashion during the ensuing days. Jeanette hid in a locked toilet cubicle for three weeks as militias hunted down every last living Tutsi.
A s for how New Zealand adapts its hate speech laws in the wake of Christchurch, it strikes me the distinction between the merely vile and the outright dangerous remains important. As galling as it is, idiots like Israel Folau deserve the protection of the law. That doesn’t mean Folau shouldn’t face dire consequences from Australian Rugby but he doesn’t need to land in prison. Equally, if you object to one religion or another, you should be able to say so. I’m inclined to the view that the best antidote to bad speech is good speech. However, when this veers into incitement, the law should step in. While tricky, this isn’t an impossible line to draw. I’m wary of efforts to expand definitions in such a way as to grant the state greater powers to police language unless it represents an identifiable threat to public safety. The better approach is embodied by our prime minister, which is to overwhelm bigotry with a message of tolerance; hate, with love. This is where the individual citizen can lead the way in our own domain. Push back against the racist uncle. Don’t stand for homophobic slurs. Don’t be bamboozled by the ‘‘anti-PC’’ crowd who see something sinister in using language in kinder, more respectful ways. We are, after all, our own best censors. When it comes to clamping down on social media platforms, I’m more amenable. No-one endowed Facebook and Google with an immutable right to create digital cesspools that we are forced to wade through in perpetuity so they can better target ads at us. Self-regulation has demonstrably failed. It’s too early to tell whether the kind of solution proposed in the UK’s online harm white paper represents a viable answer or clumsy overreach, but it’s a debate worth having, and one New Zealand should emulate. To do so constructively, however, we need leaders both inside and outside Parliament to front the discussion with calmness and credibility. This we do not have at present.
As for how New Zealand adapts its hate speech laws in the wake of Christchurch, it strikes me the distinction between the merely vile and the outright dangerous remains important.
MP Golriz Ghahraman with Simon Bikindi. She worked as an intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda defending Bikindi who was convicted for inciting genocide.