The Far-Right in International and European Law by Dr. Natalie Alkiviadou

In our latest New Publication feature for Rights! Dr. Natalie Alkiviadou discusses her book, The Far-Right in International and European Law (Routledge 2019).

Overarching premise

‘The Far-Right in International and European Law’ looks at the question of what tools exist on international (United Nations) and European (Council of Europe and European Union) levels to tackle the far-right and its manifestations in the form of speech and groups. The aim is to consider the objectives, scope and possible shortcomings across these levels, considering, both within a normative and legal ambit, whether the restriction of fundamental rights and freedoms, such as expression, association and assembly, is an effective framework through which to tackle the far-right.

Human rights contribution

Since the Second World War, the international community has sought to prevent the revival of Nazism and Fascism through, inter alia, the creation of the United Nations and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More focused measures include Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which prohibits racist speech and parties, and Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ousted what it considers (but does not define) to be hate speech from Convention protection in cases such as Norwood v the UK, whilst racist associations have also been prohibited, as in Vona v Hungary.  However, despite these measures, which emanate from the theoretical framework of militant democracy, the past decade has been marked by a presence of far-right parties such as France’s National Front and Italy’s Lega attaining first place in the latest European elections. Countries such as Hungary and Poland are being led by right-wing populist parties which are instigating constitutional upheaval and violating the rule of law. Greece has gone through a decade of terror by the violent political party ‘Golden Dawn’ whose leader and members are currently under trial for running/participating in a criminal organisation. In this context, the book helps ascertain what measures exist to tackle the far-right and its manifestations and, importantly, whether these measures are, in fact, effective.

Key findings

The book is critical of the approach of the ECtHR to the freedom of expression, assembly and association in the realm of what is loosely conceptualized as ‘hate,’ arguing that its judgements do not go beyond a narrative rhetoric of the post-1945 militancy. While readiness in restricting fundamental rights lacks due consideration of the serious ramifications this may have on the utterers of hate speech and the ‘minorities’ which the international community is seeking to protect. By bringing in a chapter on the USA, the book also demonstrates the stark variation in approaches to hate due to First Amendment ideology. I find that, ultimately, neither the European/International (militant) approach or the US counterpart are effective in handling far-right expression and groupings since this phenomenon and its manifestations have flourished in Europe and the USA.

Method and geographical scope

Through a normative backdrop of militant democracy and critical race theory, the book addresses three levels: the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe and the European Union (EU). It examines how international and European law defines and protects central freedoms which are used by the far-right (expression, association and assembly) and considers how international and European law directly or indirectly challenge the far-right. Through this assessment, it considers the objectives, scope and possible shortcomings in this sphere. Looking at both the Council of Europe and the EU, it looks at the tools available and analyses whether restricting fundamental rights and freedoms, such as expression, association and assembly, is an effective framework through which to tackle the far-right. By incorporating an assessment of the key United States jurisprudence related to far-right hatred (e.g. cross burning and the Klu Klux Klan) it addresses the question of whether rights should be restricted. This allows me to demonstrate the stark disparity between the European/United Nations’ and United States’ conceptualisation and treatment of freedoms (particularly that of speech) within the framework of a far-right ideology. Ultimately, neither approach to handling far-right expression and groupings can be defined as more effective than the other, since the far-right has flourished in both settings.

Conclusions and recommendations

The book demonstrates the shortcomings of tools available at a plethora of regional, national and international levels, with the main argumentation being that the restriction of fundamental freedoms has not contributed to the bigger aim, that being to effectively challenge the far-right. By looking at the United States, the book gives a contrasting perspective to how hate should be handled. Since none of these solutions and approaches have brought any better qualitative or quantitative results in light of the existence and rise of the far-right on a global level, I argue that the international community needs to examine the neo-liberal roots of far-right extremism and make a sincere effort to tackle socio-economic inequalities, nativist constructions of identities and the normalisation of exclusionary approaches to vulnerable groups.

Dr. Natalie Alkiviadou is a Senior Research Fellow at Justitia and works on the Future of Free Speech project. Her research focuses on free speech, ‘hate speech’ and the far-right. In addition to ‘The Far-Right in International and European Law’ (Routledge 2019), her second monograph ‘Legal Challenges to the Far-Right: Lessons from England and Wales’ was published by Routledge in December 2019. She has several publications in a wide range of peer-reviewed journals. Follow her @NatalieAlk

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