In 2017, white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statue from a public park. The “protesters” chose to voice their concerns by carrying tiki torches and spewing racist chants. The encounter began with hateful speech and ended in bloodshed and death. This is one example of how the United States, along with several other democracies, has been confronted with the question of how far they should go in limiting extreme forms of hateful, discriminatory expression.

In various countries around the world, hate speech, at its worst, has resulted in political extremism and targeted violence. But the way these countries have responded to hate speech has varied vastly with different democracies having conflicting views on how hate speech should be regulated. Different definitions, standards, and regulations exist in various countries to constitute how a given country would classify “hate speech.” This results in different responses to these differing interpretations of hate speech. Freedom of speech, however, is almost always regarded as a fundamental individual right in most democratic constitutional systems. It is a right that international human rights law obliges states to guarantee, respect, and enforce.

This Note focuses on three countries and their response to hate speech: The United States, Japan, and Germany. It will discuss how hate speech is defined in these countries, and what regulations—or lack thereof—have resulted. Additionally, this Note will focus on one of the international human rights treaties, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“ICERD”). Article 4 of ICERD requires states both to implement hate speech laws for purposes of furthering the right to equality, and to respect and enforce freedom of expression. This Note will discuss how ICERD can be implemented in areas where hate speech legislation has failed.

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