NAN – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Al Hussein on Friday, April 24, 2015 urged British authorities and media to take steps to curb incitement to hatred by tabloid newspapers.
Al Hussein made the call in a statement issued to UN correspondents in New York, in reaction to a recent article in the UK Sun Newspaper calling migrants ‘cockroaches’.
He also called for a firmer line on racism to be taken by European countries.
According to him, racism is being allowed under the guise of freedom of expression.
He flayed vilification, intolerance and politicisation of migrants, as well as of marginalised European minorities such as the Roma.”
“The nasty underbelly of racism that is characterising the migration debate in an increasing number of European Union countries, has skewed the EU response to the crisis,” he said.
The Sun article said that Al Hussein is referring to was published on April 17, and began with the words “Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad.”
It added that the Sun columnist also advocated using gunboats to stop migrants, threatening them with violence, saying “drilling a few holes in the bottom of anything suspiciously resembling a boat would be a good idea.”
Al-Hussein said that in language very similar to that employed by Rwanda’s Kangura newspaper and Radio Mille Collines during the lead up to the 1994 genocide, the columnist said “make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches”.
It recalled that leading figures in both Rwandan media organisations were later convicted by an international tribunal for public incitement to commit genocide.
Al Hussein therefore urged the UK authorities to closely examine the broader issue of incitement to hatred by the tabloid press and other sectors of society.
“This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long.
“The Nazi media described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches.
“This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper.
“The Sun editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and if it is found in breach of the law, should be held responsible along with the author,” the rights chief added.
Al Hussein noted that the Sun article was simply one of the more extreme examples of thousands of anti-foreigner articles that have appeared in UK tabloids over the past two decades.
Asylum seekers and migrants, he said, had been linked to rape, murder, disease, theft, and almost every conceivable crime and misdemeanour in front-page articles and two-page spreads, in cartoons, editorials.
“Even on the sports pages of almost all the UK’s national tabloid newspapers.
“Many of these stories have been grossly distorted and some have been outright fabrications.
“Elsewhere in Europe, as well as in other countries, there has been a similar process of demonisation taking place, but usually led by extremist political parties or demagogues rather than extremist media,” he said.
The High Commissioner noted that while migration and refugee issues were completely valid topics for public debate.
“It is imperative that migration policy decisions that affect people’s lives and fundamental human rights should be made on the basis of fact and not fiction, exaggeration or blatant xenophobia.”