ISTANBUL: Is the French bill hate speech regulation?

Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey
Dec 23 2011

Is the French bill hate speech regulation?

Advocates of the bill to criminalize the denial of the Armenian
`genocide’ introduced to the French Assemblee Nationale presume that
it intends to approximate the French criminal law provisions as
required by the EU Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA of Nov. 28, 2008 on
combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by
means of criminal law.

The Framework Decision directly refers to the crimes of genocide
committed against the Jews during World War II and mandates that
speech acts that deny, minimize or trivialize the Holocaust crimes
defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal Article 6 of the Charter of the
International Military Tribunal (London Agreement of 1945) be
criminalized and punished.

The approximation of the national criminal law provisions should help
to combat racist and xenophobic offenses more effectively by promoting
a full and effective judicial cooperation between member states. It
is, however, doubtful whether the criminalization of the denial of the
Armenian `genocide’ will help to reduce racial, religious or ethnic
hatred in French society.

Those speaking on behalf of the Armenian community in France have been
trying, to no avail, to extend directly or indirectly the scope of the
Gayssot Act to the 1915 massacres. The Gayssot Act enacted on July 13,
1990 makes it an offense in France to question the existence or size
of the category of crimes against humanity committed against the Jews
in World War II. A first attempt took place in 2003. On Oct. 12, 2006
the Assemblee Nationale voted the law but it has never been brought on
the agenda of the Senate. More recently the Senate rejected a similar
bill May 4, 2011.

Armenians in France are perfectly well integrated into French society
and are not facing any form of discrimination comparable to what
resulted from anti-Semitism. It is generally questionable whether a
legislative body should be allowed to look beyond the walls of its own
society: Its focus should be on the historical accounts of ethnic,
racial and religious violence, genocide and discriminatory practices
that have occurred within the jurisdiction of the state in which it
operates. On the European continent, a society’s treatment of its Jews
has become throughout history a paradigm for how it will treat all

In 2006, a group of 56 law professors at French universities had
questioned seriously the constitutionality of memorial laws which
infringe upon freedom of expression, of conducting historical research
and being based on a community-based approach violate the principles
of equality as defined in the French Constitution. Furthermore, such
kind of legislation impedes the process by which history is recorded
by a society and undermines the strength of the evidence in the
historical record. Renowned historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who lost
his parents in Auschwitz, and the French Holocaust survivor,
politician and lawyer Simone Veil opposed the Gayssot Act. Back in
2006 Hrant Dink opposed the law brought to French Parliament and
publicly said he would be the first to go and deny it on French soil.

A robust debate about what really happened in 1915 is warranted. The
realization of history blurs the evidence of the facts of the
accounts: Freedom of speech has to be encouraged and research in
history emancipated from politics. It should make much more sense from
a French-Armenian perspective to bring the issue of the regulation of
hate speech to the agenda of the Turkish government.

Burcu Gültekin Punsmann is a senior foreign policy analyst at TEPAV.

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