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2023 Elections: UN Advises Nigerians on Hate Speech

“We must be vigilant because words can be weaponised and lead to physical harm.”

The United Nations has called on Nigerians especially politicians to eschew hate speech as the country moves to the peak of electioneering campaigns.

The advice was given on Thursday in Abuja by the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Matthias Schmale during a press conference on the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.

Schmale said: “In Nigeria, with national elections imminent, we must be watchful for any upsurge in hate speech and disinformation, particularly if tensions were to rise between political, regional, or ethnic groups.

“We must be vigilant because words can be weaponised and lead to physical harm. From historical experience, we know that
atrocities have been preceded by hate speech. The Holocaust is, of course, the starkest example of this. But the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica also serve as warnings to us.”

He stressed that: “Hate speech is a threat to our cherished values, to the cohesion of our societies, and to the lives of our most vulnerable, especially women and girls. Undoubtedly, the internet and social media have supercharged such risks. We need to strengthen the resilience of our young people against the ideologies of hatred and educate them on the dangers of disinformation.”

 He said: “I call on all stakeholders in Nigerian society to stand up and speak out against instances of hate speech and discrimination. Each of us can play a role in countering this scourge and ensuring that all people enjoy the protections and rights for which the United Nations stands.”

He added that: “On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us honour the memory of its victims by heeding the lessons of history and pledging to
 always be vigilant in upholding human rights and dignity for all.”

Schmale while lamenting that today, we are witnessing an alarming resurgence of xenophobia and hate and that no society is immune to irrationality or intolerance, said: “Today, we pay tribute to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
We remember the six million Jewish men, women and children, as well as the Sinti and Roma, the people with disabilities, and the countless others, who were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators.

“We mourn the loss of so many and so much during the horrors of World War Two. We reflect on man’s inhumanity to man and renew our promise of ‘Never Again’.”

He noted that these principles remain essential today and that they are reflected in the commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was a
commendable initiative of the state of Israel, established through the UN General Assembly resolution 60/7 eighteen years ago, noting that the resolution is dual purpose, firstly to honour the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, and secondly because we must go beyond remembrance and ensure that younger generations know the history and apply the lessons of the Holocaust to the world of today.

He said with this in mind, the theme for this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is celebrated on every January 27 is an apt and important one: “It started with words: How hate speech can cause real harm.’’

In his message on the day, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres
said: “As we mourn the loss of so many and so much, we also recognize that the Holocaust was not inevitable. No genocide ever is.

“It was the culmination of millennia of antisemitic hate. The Nazis could only move with calculated cruelty from the discrimination of Europe’s Jews to their annihilation because so few stood up, and so many stood by.

“It was the deafening silence – both at home and abroad – that emboldened them. The alarm bells were ringing from the very beginning. Hate speech and disinformation. Contempt for human rights and the rule of law. The glorification of violence and tales of racial supremacy. Disdain for democracy and diversity.”

He added that: “In remembering the Holocaust, we recognize threats to freedom, dignity, and humanity – including in our own time. We must never forget – nor allow others to ever forget, distort or deny the Holocaust. Today and every day, let us resolve to never again remain silent in the face of evil – and to always defend the dignity and rights of all.

“Today – in the face of growing economic discontent and political instability,
 escalating white supremacist terrorism, and surging hate and religious bigotry – we must be more outspoken than ever.”

Also speaking on the day, the Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, Michael Freeman said it is quite unfortunate that many on the globe today believed that perhaps the Holocaust never happened or perhaps it was exaggerated.

Freeman said the best way to ensure that the sad history of Holocaust is never repeated is by ensuring that the story is told by survivors to the rest of the world.

He said it is sad that 20 percent of those in Europe where the event happened believed it never happened and about 70 percent felt it was perhaps exaggerated.

Michael Olugbode in Abuja

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