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UN committee faults Denmark for stopping probe of 'racist' art exhibit

AFP
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UN committee faults Denmark for stopping probe of 'racist' art exhibit
A general view shows UN Headquarters in New York City on January 24th 2023. Photo: Ed JONES / AFP

Denmark failed to take effective measures against racist hate speech when it dropped an investigation into an art exhibition depicting "racist hate images" nearly a decade ago, a UN watchdog said Tuesday.

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The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) ruled in favour of a Swedish man who filed a complaint against Denmark's lack of action over a 2014 art exhibit in which he and other people of colour were depicted in a humiliating way that could incite racial hatred.

"It does not suffice merely to declare acts of racial discrimination punishable on paper," committee member Mehrdad Payandeh said in the statement.

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"Criminal laws and other legal provisions prohibiting racial discrimination, including racist hate speech, must also be effectively
implemented."

The case was brought in 2017 by Momodou Jallow, the former spokesman for the National Association of Afro-Swedes and the national coordinator for the European Network Against Racism in Sweden.

He complained that Danish authorities had discontinued their investigation into an exhibit at a private gallery in Copenhagen three years earlier by Swedish street artist Dan Parks, who had already been convicted in Sweden for defamation and incitement to hatred.

Sponsored by the far-right Danish People's Party, the exhibit included an image of Jallow and two other black people hanging from a bridge, with the caption "hang on, afrofobians," and another depicted Jallow as a runaway slave with the text "our negro slave has run away".

Jallow filed a complaint against the artist and the organisers, alleging racial discrimination.

The state prosecutor in Copenhagen opened an investigation, but discontinued proceedings citing national and European laws on freedom of expression.

After his appeal in Denmark was rejected, Jallow brought his case to CERD, maintaining that the Danish decision violated the convention.

The committee determined that the images displayed constituted expressions of racist hate speech.

It acknowledged the need to strike a balance between the right to freedom of expression and the obligation to fight racist hate speech.

But it said the depictions and words in this case were particularly concerning as they expressed the idea of racial superiority and could incite violence.

"Some of the pictures displayed specific anti-discrimination activists, with messages to humiliate them and tarnish their dignity, and that can incite racial hatred and violence," Payandeh said.

The committee, whose opinions and recommendations are non-binding but carry reputational weight, ruled that the Danish authorities had failed to give an appropriate and proportional response in the case.

It said Denmark should apologise to Jallow and grant him "a full reparation".

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