UK

Tackle tabloid 'hate speech', UN commissioner urges UK

Katie Hopkins Image copyright PA
Image caption A petition calling for Katie Hopkins to be sacked has received more than 280,000 signatures

UK authorities have been urged to tackle "anti-foreigner abuse" in the British press after a Sun column referred to migrants as "cockroaches".

UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said the comments by Katie Hopkins were similar to language used before the Rwandan genocide.

Mr Hussein said the UK needed to take steps to curb the "incitement to hatred" caused by British newspapers.

News Corporation, which owns The Sun, has declined to comment.

Writing on Friday, Ms Hopkins did not apologise but said the episode had been "a cautionary tale".

A petition calling for her to be fired from The Sun has received more than 280,000 signatures.

'Vicious verbal assault'

In her column on 17 April Ms Hopkins likened migrants to "norovirus on a cruise ship" and said gunships should be used to stop people crossing the Mediterranean.

More than 1,700 migrants are believed to have died so far this year attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Ms Hopkins' column was published before a fishing boat capsized off Libya, killing at least 750 people.

Mr Hussein said the article was "one of the more extreme examples of thousands of anti-foreigner articles that have appeared in UK tabloids over the past two decades".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Zeid called on all European countries to take a "firmer line" on racism and xenophobia

"This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long," he said.

"I am an unswerving advocate of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it 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'."

Rwanda and Nazis

Mr Hussein called on all European countries to take a "firmer line" on racism and xenophobia, which he said "under the guise of freedom of expression, are being allowed to feed a vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicisation of migrants, as well as of marginalised European minorities such as the Roma".

He added: "The nasty underbelly of racism that is characterising the migration debate in an increasing number of EU countries has skewed the EU response to the crisis."

In a press release containing Mr Hussein's comments, the UN said the article followed "decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion".

It said the use of word "cockroaches" in Ms Hopkins' column was "very similar" to that employed by Rwanda's Kangura newspaper and Radio Mille Collines during the run up to the 1994 genocide, as well as in the Nazi media.

BBC Geneva correspondent Imogen Foulkes said the statement reflected widespread concern within the UN that anti-foreigner sentiment in the media may dissuade the public from supporting action needed to save lives.

'Channel your outrage'

A spokesman for the Independent Press Standards Organisation said it had received more than 300 complaints about Ms Hopkins' article and that it was investigating whether the piece breached its editors' code.

Ms Hopkins used her column on Friday to respond to criticism, saying she was "grateful to The Sun for letting me speak my mind, and for all the letters of support from readers".

She did not apologise but said the episode had been "a cautionary tale," adding: "One should be brave enough to speak out - but aware of the dangers which lurk in the depths of our vocabulary."

Addressing her critics, she went on: "Accept our opinions differ. Channel your outrage at the regimes causing people to flee."

More on this story