International Day of Peace: More than 300 Students in Kinshasa Sensitized on Hate Speech
In Kinshasa, the International Day of Peace, celebrated on September 21, 2022, was marked by a conference-debate jointly organized by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) and MONUSCO Public Information office (SC-PID), attended by more than 300 students, around the fight against hate speech and messages.
During the meeting held at Pullman Hotel, in a context where the DRC is experiencing an incredible rise in hate speech spread via the social networks, Aziz Abdoul Thioye, UNJHRO director, reminded the audience coming from the different universities of Kinshasa the six questions to always ask to break the chain of the hate speech and disinformation spread on the digital platforms.
These issues are enshrined in the Rabat Action Plan on the prohibition of advocacy for national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.
This plan worked out by the United Nations High Commissioner Office for Human Rights was put in place to avoid undermining the freedom of expression, while fighting hate speech and misinformation.
Using common sense
In his presentation, Mr. Thioye called on these young students to “use common sense and create an attitude of distancing themselves”, from the contents spreading hatred.
“Before clicking and sharing contents, think twice about the consequences and ask yourself the right questions, about the status of the author of the content, the subject of the message, the intent with which the content or message was created, the form of the speech, the breadth that message or content will have as well as the likelihood of it causing harm,” he explained.
UNJHRO director also underscored social networks have a mirror effect which amplifies, multiplies, and encourages action without thinking of the consequences. “I urge all of us to stand up against hate speech and raise awareness in our individual environments. We all need to own this fight. Never share without checking,” he concluded.
Congolese leadership involved in the fight against hate speech
Christophe Boulierac, Director of Public Information Division, recalled that the fight against hate speech is shared by the Congolese leadership, highlighting that in his September 20 speech before the UN General Assembly, the Congolese head of state, Felix Tshisekedi, recalled the need to banish hate speech.
“The Congolese state and civil society will never allow anyone to hold tribal, ethnic, or xenophobic hate speech in our country. The constitution of the republic and the Congolese laws prohibit such speech and punish it severely,” recalled Christophe Boulierac, quoting the statement by the Head of State.
SC-PID director insisted “in the face of hate speech, we all have a duty to break the chain of distribution. Peace is hard to build, but easy to destroy.”
The manipulated face justice more than the manipulators
Professor Esambo Kangeshe, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Kinshasa, one of the speakers, recalled that the Congolese constitution enshrines the freedom of demonstration and expression; demonstrating is a fundamental right.
“But when violence is used, protests lose all legitimacy. It becomes an offense under the Congolese criminal law,” he underscored.
Professor Esambo called the students’ attention on the manipulators. “Let me draw your attention to this fact: manipulators often escape justice because they act in the shadows. But it is the manipulated who fall into the traps and suffer the rigors of the law: do not allow yourself to be manipulated. Do Resist,” he said.
The mirror effect of social networks
Also participating in this day of reflection, Professor Ndukuma Adjayi Kodjo provided figures on the internet users in the DRC: 40 million Congolese are on social networks, according to him.
He recalled, according to a study, in the DRC and in the world, it is the content containing hate speech and indecent acts and words that breaks the record in the sharing. "With 40 million people connected in the DRC and more than 3 billion worldwide, you may figure out the speed with which false information can circulate and wreak havoc in the world," he said.
Professor Kodjo recalled there are legal provisions in the DRC that criminalize hate speech, referring to article 199 ter of the penal code containing the 1975 law. "This law punishes misinformation which it describes as 'false rumor'", he said.
He also referred to the Act No 20/017, article 195, which punishes with penal sentence from five to ten years those who commit offenses through electronic ways, committing offenses against persons due to their membership to a group on race, national or ethnic lines.