For Immediate Release: September 19, 2012
Washington, DC – In testimony submitted today to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, Human Rights First’s Paul LeGendre urged the U.S. to use its wide arsenal of tools to address global hate crime and the threat of extremism. His testimony also detailed the types of biases that fuel hate crimes across the globe and solutions for combatting violence rooted in racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, sexual orientation or gender identity bias.
Today’s hearing takes place against the backdrop of protests throughout the Middle East that demonstrate the need for an approach to combating bigotry and intolerance that also protects freedom of expression. Human Rights First has argued that such an approach should consist of robust efforts to combat violent hate crime as well as political leadership in speaking out against hateful and offensive speech, while also protecting free expression. Human Rights First welcomes a hearing devoted to assessing and strengthening the effectiveness of responses to hate crime in the U.S.
“Violent hate crime is always harmful to society, but is particularly destructive when there is either no response or an inadequate response by State institutions,” noted LeGendre in his testimony. “[This hearing] signifies the importance the United States attaches to the fundamental rights that are violated when violent hate crimes occur and particularly when they are not met by a robust governmental response.”
By demonstrating leadership on these issues at home, the U.S. strengthens its ability to credibly lend its support to other countries addressing similar human rights concerns. In his testimony, LeGendre recommended that Congress work with other branches of the U.S. government to advocate measures in the context of bilateral relations to combat hate crime, strengthen the international leadership of the U.S. in multilateral forums, and expand efforts to support civil society organizations throughout the world. LeGendre’s testimony also includes recommendations drawn from Human Rights First’s Ten-Point Plan for Combating Hate Crimes, which include acknowledging and condemning violent hate crimes when they occur and encouraging international cooperation on hate crimes.
As Congress considers these tough issues, an anti-Muslim video that sparked violent protests throughout the Middle East has some governments in the region seeking to strengthen the language and implementation of blasphemy laws, which crimialize speech that offends groups of religious believers. Human Rights First notes that such laws run counter to efforts to combat discrimination and violence. Their implementation has engendered serious human rights abuses, as they are frequently used against religious minorities and to justify violence against those groups. Human Rights First has successfully worked with U.S. government officials to oppose such measures when they come up at the United Nations and other international forums.
More for more information on blasphemy laws see Human Rights First’s report, Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions.”