MP lacks cred­i­bil­ity in urg­ing hate speech law

The Southland Times - - Opinion - Phil Quin

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.

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