Hate Speech, Holy Prophets and Human Rights: The Struggle for Free Speech from 1945-2021

Jacob Mchangama, Heini í Skorini, Mathias Meier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines how the right to freedom of expression in international human rights law has been a constant source of conflict and political power struggles since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Applying both the UN arena as well as the Helsinki Process as institutional frameworks, the article examines how prohibitions against hate speech, incitement to hatred, blasphemy and related legal restrictions have served as a recurrent source of conflict in international diplomacy and in the making of international free speech norms in the postwar period. From the drafting history of the UDHR and the subsequent International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to the Helsinki Final Act and contemporary UN resolutions, the article provides an overview and outlines some of the main conflicts and issues regarding the right to communicate freely about cultural, religious, and political issues in the postwar period.
Censorship and repression predate debates surrounding the prohibition of hate speech in international human rights law. And while authoritarian states are likely to use such methods to punish dissent regardless of international standards, the article nonetheless argues that obligations to ban specific categories of speech under human rights law provide formal legitimacy, or at least a façade of legitimacy, to authoritarian restrictions of free expression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)675-712
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Free Speech Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Freedom of Expression
  • Hate Speech
  • United Nations
  • International Law
  • Human Rights
  • International Relations
  • Censorship


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