[JURIST] The systematic anti-foreigner language used in British tabloids for decades, and a recent article in The Sun [media website] calling migrants “cockroaches,” moved the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to take action on Friday, calling on UK officials and the media to curb incitement to hatred. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile] called on EU countries [press release] to take a firm stance on xenophobia and racism, which he said is flourishing under the guise of freedom of expression, to halt the cycle of intolerance of migrants and other marginalized European minorities. An article by a Sun columnist on April 17 entitled “I would use gunships to stop migrants” began with the worlds “Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.” The columnist continued to describe the migrants as “a plague of feral humans” turning some British towns into “festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers shelling out benefits like Monopoly money.” She also spoke of drilling holes in the bottom of migrant vessels. The column was published two days before a migrant boat from Libya capsized in the Mediterranean, claiming about 800 lives. The UN human rights chief said the language used in such xenophobic articles is similar language used by Nazi propagandists and some Rwandan media outlets during the 1994 genocide. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text, PDF] protects freedom of speech, but Zeid argues that the right is not absolute. Article 20 of the same Covenant says, “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”
Refuges from the conflicts in the Africa and the Middle East have generated a tremendous humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean with hundreds of deaths in recent months. Earlier this week UN rights experts warned [JURIST report] the EU that repression of irregular migration cannot be the only solution to the recurrent grave problem of masses of people drowning at sea. UN officials called on the EU to create a new rescue operation program [JURIST report] for migrants attempting to traverse the Mediterranean and to commit to greater receipt of refugees. In February a Spanish court accused [JURIST report] 16 civil guards of using excessive force against 15 sub-Saharan immigrants who drowned attempting to swim around a seawall between Ceuta and Morocco last February. Also in February Amnesty International [advocacy website] criticized [JURIST report] the EU’s failure to prevent migrant casualties at sea. The statement comes amid reports that as many as 300 migrants may have died off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.