Press release - 799(2008)

Council of Europe launches manuals on hate speech and wearing religious symbols in public

The Hague, 12.11.2008 – The Council of Europe has launched two manuals on hate speech and wearing religious symbols in public areas in order to promote a better understanding of these two issues, which have serious implications for the protection of human rights.

The manuals aim to clarify both concepts, which have caused intense controversy in Europe in the last years, and to guide policy makers, experts and other mainly through the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said “human rights apply to all people at all times and in all places, to Muslims and Christians, Jews, agnostics and atheists. As standards for liberty, justice, equality and solidarity, they are the glue that bind us together”.

According to Professor Malcolm Evans, author of the “Manual on the Wearing of Religious Symbols in Public Areas”, “the Court points out that states enjoy a broad margin of discretion when regulating the wearing of religious symbols. However it also underlines that they must also ensure that individuals are able to enjoy the fullest possible freedom of religion or belief, with mutual respect for the rights of all being a key guiding principle”.

Considering the complexity of this issue and the varied approaches of states, so far the Council of Europe has not issued any specific recommendation and has relied on the case law of the Court as the basic guide on this topic.

Anne Weber, author of the “Manual on Hate Speech”, points out “it is sometimes difficult to reconcile the enjoyment of freedom of expression with other rights. However this freedom is not an absolute right, it is subject to certain limits set by the European Convention on Human Rights. The manual aims to differentiate expressions which, although being somehow insulting, are protected by the convention, from those which do not enjoy that protection”.

Most European countries have already adopted legislation forbidding expressions of hate speech, which may include forms of expression that disseminate, promote or justify hate based on racist, religious, aggressive nationalism, or homophobic intolerance.

The manuals were launched on the first day of the conference “Human Rights in culturally diverse societies: challenges and perspectives”, which was opened today by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Guusje ter Horst, Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations of the Netherlands, and Eva Smith-Asmussen, Chairperson of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

Fact sheet on wearing religious symbosl in public

Fact sheet on hate speech

Programme of the conference


Jaime Rodríguez, Press Officer, Tel. +33 (0) 689 99 50 42;

Council of Europe Press Division
Tel: +33 (0)3 88 41 25 60
Fax:+33 (0)3 88 41 39 11