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April 24, 2015 3:05 pm

UN Human Rights Chief: British Newspaper ‘Cockroach’ Column Reminiscent of Antisemitic Propaganda

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein accused The Sun of publishing a piece that he branded reminiscent of antisemitic Nazi propaganda. Photo: United Nations Human Rights Council

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed British newspaper The Sun saying the use of the word “cockroach” in one of its columns suggested antisemitic Nazi propaganda, The Guardian reported on Friday.

“The Nazi media described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches,” said U.N. Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, adding that the terminology was also used by those responsible for the genocide in Rwanda. “This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper. The Sun‘s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author.”

The U.N. chief was responding to an April 17 article by Katie Hopkins, a columnist for The Sun, which is Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper. Hopkins used the word, “cockroaches,” to describe migrants and said she was unmoved by the harrowing journey of those who chose to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe.

“No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care,” she wrote. “Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.”

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Hussein urged the British government, media and regulators of the press to uphold laws, both national and international, on repressing incitement to hatred, according to The Guardian. He said “under the guise of freedom of expression,” racism and xenophobia are being allowed to fuel a “vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicization of migrants, as well as of marginalized European minorities such as the Roma.” He claimed many stories in the press have been “grossly distorted” or later revealed to be “outright fabrications.”

Hussein said it is “extraordinary and deeply shameful” to see tactics like the demonizing of foreigners used to win votes or sell newspapers. He also accused the British press of consistently attacking and vilifying migrants, The Guardian reported. He also called out the “nasty underbelly of racism” that now characterizes the migration story in the press.

“This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long,” he said. “Asylum seekers and migrants have, day after day, for years on end, been linked to rape, murder, diseases such as HIV and TB, theft, and almost every conceivable crime and misdemeanor imaginable in front-page articles and two-page spreads, in cartoons, editorials, even on the sports pages of almost all the UK’s national tabloid newspapers.”

Hussein is the second U.N. official to criticize Hopkins’ article, according to The Guardian. François Crépeau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, on Wednesday accused people like Hopkins of  “migrant-bashing” to win votes. Crépeau called upon politicians to take action and show leadership. He explained, “We need people who are able to say to that Sun journalist, ‘You’re wrong and you should know that.'”

Hopkins is remaining silent about the controversy surrounding her article.

Perhaps suggesting the controversy, she wrote on Twitter, “Sometimes when all you want to do is scream, silence is the loudest shout if all.”

A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Independent Press Standards Organization confirmed that there have been more than 300 complaints about Hopkins’ article, The Guardian reported.

“IPSO is investigating whether the piece breaches the Editors’ Code and will publish its findings in due course,” the spokesperson said. “While this process continues, it would not be right to provide a detailed response on the investigation or the broader issues it raises.”

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