Jul 06, 2021
“Hate speech” in Sri Lanka has been prevalent for many years and is discussed, deliberated and examined in various forums in different dimensions. With the rise of various platforms online, there is a broader concern about the evolution of stronger forces generating hate speech than in the past.
While hate speech has no legal definition, the UN defines hate speech as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language concerning a person or a group, based on who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or another identity factor.” Hate speech is a phenomenon that can be expressed in the form of racism, xenophobia, interethnic hostility or intolerance, instigating violence, hatred or discrimination.
Sri Lankan society is still trying to draw attention to differences in gender, colour, appearance, ideology, culture, religion, region, language, creating discrimination and hate. Although women have made significant contributions to the country’s economy and human rights have also been improved, women’s lives are still dominated by discrimination which give them an inferior social and economic status. Accordingly, hate speech against women is another element that discomforts women.
“Cyber Hate” is the new force that provides an exponential increase for hate speech against women. This has the potential to spread with disastrous consequences on the offline world at an extraordinary speed. Sri Lanka is a country where more than half of the population is women and a country that comprised the world’s first female non-hereditary Head of Government. As in the case where Mrs World 2019 was cyber bullied for her actions, the country witnesses hate speech upto date. People still discriminate and insult the Sri Lankan lady who made the country proud by winning the title of Mrs World 2019. This is a clear example of how hate speech holds back Sri Lankan society, preventing new ideas from being exposed.
The ongoing process of constitutional reforms have opened many doors for debate on individual and collective rights. Sri Lanka’s legal structure already comprises a variety of laws covering hate speech, as pointed out by various parties in response to the government’s efforts to enact new hate speech legislation in 2015. However, the existing Sri Lankan legal structure that provides the prosecution of hate speech should be further evaluated to decide if lack of action on this topic is the effect of legal gaps; practical issues of lack of ability or resources; or other more complicated reasons arising from the current political background and dynamics.
The freedom of expression, conscience and religion are the priorities in Chapter 3, Sentence 10 of the Fundamental Rights in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, a person should have the right to believe what they feel. Thus, a woman also must have the right to express what they feel.
The main reason for the issue of hate speech against women is that most laws, reforms and government programmes contain no clear actions to ensure gender equality and equal access and participation for women. Accordingly, there is a huge gap in the issue of hate speech against women, as there are only several measures taken to address accountability in this regard than a strong legal framework addressing this issue. Addressing hate speech does not mean that it restricts or eliminates the freedom of speech. But, it aims to prevent hate speech from becoming more harmful particularly encouraging discrimination, aggression and violence prohibited by international law.
According to UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres “Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace”. Hence, to expect a society’s democracy, every person must avoid hate speech. “Tackling hate speech is the responsibility of all: governments, societies, the private sector, starting with individual women and men. All are responsible; all must act.” Although there are some laws related to hate speech in Sri Lanka, there are still no separate laws and reforms for hate speech against women. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the country to establish separate laws and reforms for hate speech against women in Sri Lanka.