5.4.6 Legal Measures to Reduce the Likelihood of Ethnic Conflict

(This is an archived extract from the book Patterns of Power: Edition 2)

In a pluralist society there is a potential for conflict between different ethnic communities ( If conflict takes the form of discrimination, violence, or the threat of violence, the law can provide appropriate protection for people in most societies. Ethnic divisiveness, though, can be inflamed by abuse and defamation, which can be a prelude to violence.

The previous section (5.4.5) identified several legal constraints on freedom of speech, to prevent people from causing direct harm to each other. The issues are more complex, though, where some forms of divisiveness are likely to foment ethnic tensions in the future even though it cannot be proved that any individual person has been directly harmed at the time.

It is necessary to balance a desire for freedom of speech against the desire for a peaceful society. If the law is to be used to supplement moral pressure ( in countering ethnic conflict it has to be clearly definable, it has to be enforceable, and it has to avoid suppressing constructive criticism. There are at least three categories of speech which might be thought to meet these criteria:

      Demeaning a belief or all its adherents (

      Telling lies with intent to defame an ethnic group (

      Preaching intolerance (

PatternsofPower.org, 2014