Hate speech regularly, if not inevitably, precedes and accompanies ethnic conflicts, and particularly genocidal violence. Without such incitement to hatred and the exacerbation of xenophobic, anti-Semitic, or racist tendencies, no genocide would be possible and persecutory campaigns would rarely meet with a sympathetic response in the general public.
In order to successfully prevent genocidal crimes and violence, therefore, it is indispensable to effectively address the problem of systematic incitement to hatred. While less virulent forms of hate speech may be adequately addressed by human-rights law obligations on governments to prohibit such acts, vicious, systematic, and state-organized hate propaganda should be criminalized under international law. Before discussing how hate speech can be treated as an international crime, this article assesses the most important justifications for proscribing hate speech, including the need to protect the human dignity and equality rights of the victims of such speech as well as the need to protect the public peace and the dangers of hate speech in that it may contribute to the creation of a climate of hatred and violence directed against a specific group. The article supports treating systematic incitement to hatred as a form of persecution, an approach recently upheld by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Such an approach most adequately reflects the nature of hate speech and the motivations underlying its criminalization, while also respecting the important right to freedom of speech.