Is the French bill hate speech regulation?

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 minorities.

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.